There is little doubt in my mind that this week’s

OLD TESTAMENT READING [EXODUS 22: 21 – 27] obviously continues the thrust of last week’s basic challenge of whose image, likeness and inscription is on the daily ‘currency’ I choose to use.

All sorts of ‘problem’ questions spring into mind …. was (or

IS?) our Christian-Creator-God the first true communist? (“I shall surely hear their cry.“) Is he (or she?) a proponent of capitalism or free enterprise? Does God-in-Christ expect us, no matter what, to deliver in due season his share of the produce from the vineyard he has leased to us? (think back on our reflections for the 27th and 28th Sundays) Then, how do the senior executives of our leading Banks react to the challenge of you shall not be to him as a creditor? In fact this is a rather ‘wobbly’ translation … the KNOX VERSION renders it more ruthlessly: if you lend money to some poorer neighbour … you shall not drive him hard … or burden him with usury. Of course, we recall all those unsolicited e-mails that arrive and offer instant, ‘friendly’ loans even if we do not have security?! …. it is his only covering, his mantle … in what else shall he sleep?

WOW! How on earth do we reconcile all this with the way our contemporary financial systems work? IS IT money that makes the world go round?

It is not my intention to posit answers for any of the questions posed but each one of us really need to respond in some personal, honest, manner. However, it would be helpful for us to balance it all out by taking a careful look

at TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 22: 34 – 40]. At once we must not overlook the motivation behind the Pharisee’s question. Indeed it is a continuation of last week’s endeavours to trap Jesus into a simplistic answer. The Pharisee was not remotely interested in the actual answer. He was only looking for ‘ammunition’. We must not make the same mistake.

The questioner expects one commandment of the law to be singled out. However, he is hoisted on his own petard. {be careful on which pole you choose to raise your flag!?} The Lord, instead, combines two precepts of the law and presents them as one. He looks beyond the immediate because the complications of life are rarely, if ever, simple and uncomplicated. There are very few things which are neatly ‘black’ or ‘white’ ….. most are one of the million shades of grey that lie between the two extremes. It is of real value for us to look at Jesus’ complete answer:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

AND A SECOND IS LIKE IT.

Note that Jesus does not say the second but a second. The answer is a skilful (if not sublime) combination into ONE! Further these two which have become one are the foundation on which the entire Christian life is to be built. Our challenge is constantly to strive and bring these two into a holistic whole. We should not overlook the fact that an examination of the answer makes it clear and simple (but not simplistic!) that you cannot truly love God unless you love your neighbour …. neither is it possible to love your neighbour unless you love God. The two commandments are, for all time, intricately linked and interwoven together. No amount of mental gymnastics can extricate us from this basic: on these two …. depend all …

Now read again our extract from the Book of Exodus. It should begin to make a great deal more sense.

If we reflect on the opening words of

TODAY’S PSALM [18] we will learn insights into the entire scenario. I love you, Lord, my strength; … my rock, my fortress, my saviour.

Start with the last word, saviour – and work backwards. It is only when I have a full and heartfelt acceptance of God-in-Christ as

MY SAVIOUR that I begin to see and appreciate him as fortress, rock and strength. It is seldom, if ever, an easy matter to always love my neighbour. However, my acceptance of Christ as saviour will always include the acceptance of him as also my neighbour’s saviour. It is in this way that he becomes the rock and fortress on which I slowly but surely, little by little, build my loving acceptance of neighbour – warts and all. In addition I become more aware of my own warts. Like myself, the neighbour is never ‘black’ or ‘white’ but GREY! I need something in which to sleep – like neighbour I need my mantle.

As Saint Paul reminds us in

TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT EXTRACT [1 THESSALONIANS1: 5c – 10] we need to grow into an example to all believers …. and, in the words of Exodus not wrong a stranger … you shall not afflict.