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People of the Book: Matthew 22:34-40

Meg Peery McLaughlin
People of the Book
February 14, 2021
Matthew 22:34-40

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

In one of my first sermons to you,
I confessed to you that I am married to a man who follows certain rules
about toothpaste tubes (picture)
and only pouring as much milk in your cereal bowl that you are darn sure you will drink once the mini-wheats are gone,
My parents are alive and well, but this sign on their kitchen wall  (Waste not, Want not) has already been willed to Jarrett.

A rule of thrift guides Jarrett’s life.

One scholar of this text from Matthew says that
“Paying attention to the rules we make is revealing,
because, by and large the rules we live by orient us to our center,
to what is most important,
to what we want to make sure we attend to.”

I got curious about what other house rules other humans have to live with,
or grew up with and so I went to social media to ask.

And although it did not have as many hits as that hysterical zoom cat lawyer,
hundreds of you responded!

There were some common rules:
Come home before the streetlights come on.
Homework before tv.
If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

There were some odd rules:
Don’t sing at the table.
It’s tacky to walk with a lit cigarette.
Don’t leave church to go to the restroom.

Jay Klompmaker said that I would need a long time
(and a glass of wine) to hear all of his rules growing up in a Dutch Reformed household.
But I tell you, the Klompmakers got nothing on the Pharisees.

Matthew tells us that a lawyer asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest,
and that lawyer knows good and well there are 613 of them
precisely spelled out in the pages of Torah.

What is Jesus supposed to say? Make your bed? Clean your plate?

Mathematically, if the Pharisee already has an answer in mind, Jesus has a .16 percent chance of getting it right.

But if you read this whole chapter,
you’ll quickly learn that the lawyer wasn’t going for a right answer at all.
This was a set up, a test, an effort to shame[1]

Now if I had been in Jesus’ shoes,
and had his quick wit and smarts,

I think I would have tried to “one up” this lawyer’s snark: like quote Leviticus 19:17
“You shall not hate a fellow Israelite.”

Or Deuteronomy 19:15
“Do not the decide a case on the evidence of single witness.”

But Jesus is not petty, much to my chagrin sometimes. He doesn’t return snark for snark, shame for shame.

Instead, he turns to the rule that everyone within earshot would immediately recognize.
The rule Jews recited every morning and evening: the Shema.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Then he goes on to say the second is like it, in fact, even defines the first,
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Everything, EVERYTHING is summed up in these two.

Preacher Jenny McDevitt says:
The Torah goes to great lengths to clarify what love looks like.
It lays down guidelines not because those who observe Torah want to be stingy with their love. Just the opposite. There are all manner of instructions because those who observe the Torah really want to get love right.

Jesus comes, to fulfill the law,
he comes to show us what it looks like with flesh and blood.
Jesus isn’t one-upping the Shema.
He’s explaining it in all its fullness.

If you want to love God, you have to love what God loves.
And God loves everything, every whit of creation.
If you want to love God, you have to love who God loves.
And God loves everyone. Indiscriminately. Unconditionally. Wrecklessly.

Whew. As my friend Bruce Reyes-Chow says: “
It’s all that easy. . . .and it’s all that HARD.”
Hard indeed.

Which must be why when Toni Morrison,
our modern day prophet now resting in power
spoke of love she said:
“Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think love is easy, you are a fool. If you think love is natural, you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is how we find our way to God.”

Like all y’all, I’m trolling the web to figure out when I can get my loved ones a vaccine.
And like one of our deacons said this week, I give thanks for scientists and all the front line friends who are getting shots in arms. I know there are rules about all that.

Gloves and masks and who goes first, and how to refrigerate, and how long to monitor after the injection.

I read a story this week[2] of some public health workers driving back from a vaccination site in rural Oregon. These workers knew they only had six hours to get the remaining doses of coronavirus vaccine back to people who were waiting for their shots 30 miles away.

But they were in a snowstorm, and a tractor trailer had just jackknifed ahead of them.

These folks knew the rules of who was supposed to go next. I’m sure they knew whatever 613 rules their health department had handed down to them, but there in the snow, they made a decision to walk from car to car, asking stranded drivers if they wanted to be vaccinated, right there on the spot. (pictures)

Seems to me they were following the rule of love.

Say please and thank you.
Don’t play in the street.
Sure, sure, yes, but LOVE, friends.
Above all things, love. Hard as it may be, creative as you may have to get.
Love is the center.
Love is the answer.

This week Elder Scott Smith gave the church an old bible.
From the year 1881.
It was a gift from a friend of Kenan Flagler Business School.
I opened it and found that right at the very beginning of our Holy Scripture
was this page –an illustrated page of the greatest commandment.

While I was delighted, I was not surprised.
Before the words “In the beginning. . . “
This bible chose to insert this text.
As if to remind us of the rule of love.

Today is our last installment in our sermon series People of the Book.

And we end with the Rule of Love, which Presbyterians state as thus:

Any interpretation of Scripture is wrong that separates love for God and love for fellow human being, including both love expressed in individual relations and in human community (social justice). No interpretation of Scripture is correct that supports contempt for any individual or group.

So church,
People of the Book,
whether or not you have made your bed,
or written your thank you notes,
or chewed with your mouth closed,

what you are being asked to do
is to read this Word,
as if love is at your center,
as if love is at your core.

May it be so.

[1] Literally the verb used here is that the lawyer TESTS Jesus, used in Matthew only in reference to the devil and the Pharisees.


Meg Peery McLaughlin , Pastor


Phone: 919.929.2102 ext 111


Meg feels called to share good Gospel news–in word, in deed, in silence, in all things–to all of God’s beloved children. She is a native of North Carolina, graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and with a Master’s in Divinity and in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Meg was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 2006, at Village Presbyterian Church near Kansas City, MO, where she served for seven years in the role of Pastoral Care. She and Jarrett accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church in June of 2013 where they served for 6 years before coming to UPC. Meg and Jarrett have three young daughters: big sister Naomi and, twins, Caroline and Zanna. She has hitched her life to the promise that Jesus Christ is the light that overcomes darkness, is the love that is stronger than all fear, and is the sure and certain assurance that new life is possible, even when it seems otherwise.