A reflection on Matthew 22.34-46 by the Rev. Marnie Peterson
Do you ever get the impression that sometimes we are asking the wrong questions?
That the things that we ask are about us, and not about God at all?
Tonight’s passage has the leaders of the community once more asking Jesus questions and you get the impression that they are not really looking for his answer at all. They are looking for something to use against him – something that they can take and condemn him with – something that will prove them right and justify their fear and suspicion of him. Again.
Jesus and the kingdom or kin-dom is that he presents are too dangerous to their way of being. It takes away the lines that we so carefully and painstakingly draw between us.
What is the greatest commandment? That you love one another, yourself and God. Everything hangs on these two things.
But wrong question – because we knew that this is what he would say.
Who do you think you are talking to?
Who do you think the Messiah is?
You are looking for a human who harkens from a powerful line – you are looking for someone with power and prestige – and I am here to tell you, Jesus says, that even that person – even the powerful will call the Messiah, Lord. The kingdom that they present is not the one that you are envisioning at all.
This Messiah is not who you think they will be. They will not be with the powerful, they will not uphold your carefully designed rules. They will not abide by the lines that you draw.
Because what is the greatest commandment?
That you love.
Some of us have just returned from retreat at Rivendell, on Bowen Island, where we spent some time reflecting on the notion of Stability. And not Stability in terms unchanged. Things change – life demands change whether we like it or not. We were thinking about stability through the lens of Benedictine spirituality.
Stability through this particular lens in an invitation to be present to the world that is in front of you. It invites us to look for God in the people and the places that we are – not in some place that we wish we were or as some version of ourselves that we aspire to be. But these people, in this place, as you are.
I read the following quote to the people we were gathered with and I think it is worth hearing again:
Benedictine stability is a promise to meet life head on. Monastic stability deals directly with three things: centeredness, commitment, and relationships.
There are some things in life that cannot be avoided: death, illness, change, personal expectations. What each of them does to us depends a great deal on the way we have allowed ourselves to deal with lesser things. The purpose of stability is to centre us in something greater that ourselves so that nothing lesser than ourselves can possibly sweep us away.
Stability says that where I am is were God is for me. More than that, stability teaches that whatever the depth of the dullness or the difficulties around me, I can, if I simply stay still enough of heart, find God in the midst of them. (Chittister, 1990)
So first I want to say that I think ‘simply’ is a misnomer when talking about ‘stillness of heart’. This version of stability takes practice. It is a muscle that we need to train.
We will not all of a sudden, because we decided, be able to find God in the places around us all of the time. We will not all of a sudden no longer have little things bother us. But we can begin this practice.
We can begin to look.
We can begin to notice.
We can begin to work towards having an open heart towards one another. We can practice taking on a loving stance.
I come to church and insist on being in community because this is where I am reminded and where I get to practice these things: where I strengthen these muscles. Because I am not good at this.
The terrible thing about Grace is that it is not just for me. And I cannot even begin to understand grace in its complexity and as God offers if I don’t encounter others.
This is terrible because it means work on my part. It means that I cannot sit in the corner and only talk to the people I like best. It means that I have to be open to talking to others.
It means that I have to show up and mostly I prefer not to.
I like my own company. I like not talking. I like it when the world fits into the box that I have prescribed.
Is it lawful to pay taxes?
If a man dies childless and his wife then marries his brother and they don’t have children so then she marries the next brother and still bears no children and then she dies – whose wife will she be in heaven?
And also terrible story – we skip over this one in our lectionary which is maybe a blessing – it sits right in between the reading that we had last week and the one that we hear tonight. And I don’t totally want to skip it because I want you to know that I read it and though I know it has to be taken within its historical context, but it still awful. And still wrong question.
It seems that they Sadducees and Pharisees are asking questions only to justify their particular stance – to enforce their particular world view.
And they are the wrong questions.
Jesus just keep flipping them to point them toward the world that he has come to point us toward. Again and again he refuses to be trapped.
We are not about the laws and the lines that you have created – we are about love. Again.
We as followers of Christ called to ask where is God here? Where can I see God in you?
What does it mean to accept grace from you? To feel the grace of God in forgiveness? In the building of community? In the breaking of bread that is the same bread for all of us? In the sharing of wine that is the same wine for all of us?
When we opened our time on retreat together I asked everyone to go around, to introduce themselves and to say what stability meant for them.
I introduced myself and I said; when I think about stability, I think: Feet planted. Deep breath.
I think I will plant my feet here, where I am. I will stand here. And I will take a deep breath. I will breathe in God who is here and I will exhale all that prevents me from seeing, and I will take in all that is holy and beautiful about this place, about these people and about myself.
Feet planted. Deep breath. God is here. There is no question.
It is only a matter of allowing myself to see and to feel and to respond and to share the love that is real and perfect and that comes from God.
The question is will I allow myself to be present enough to find God in this place?