Cable News, Pharisees, and You

We are a tad over 2 weeks into the new year and it has already been action packed. The worldwide pandemic has continued with ever increasing infection numbers here in the US and abroad. We have seen the chaos and ongoing division that is spewing forth from Washington and various other locations across the country. We have all felt the anxiety and confusion of this time. And on top of that it feels like we are stuck in the classic Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day. Day after day after day the news is full of the same, slow grind of depressing news. But in the midst of that we have been given a new year. We have been given a new slate of days and weeks and months in which we can worship the Creator of the Universe and seek his will and his desire for us. We have the opportunity to be the light of Christ in a truly dark and difficult time. But how do we do that?

In Matthew 22, we are told that Jesus has silenced the Sadducees, so the Pharisees get together to attempt to trick Jesus. One of them goes to Jesus and asks which commandment is the greatest. The Pharisees were legal experts. They spent their lives studying Jewish law. All 613 commandments. This man asking the question would have been intimately familiar with all of those commandments as well as the oral tradition that accompanied all of them. And he is asking Jesus which one is the most important. Jesus answers that loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength is the greatest commandment. And the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves. He then takes it one step further and says that the other 611 commandments hang upon these two commandments. So if you can do those two, you have fulfilled them all. Matthew doesn’t record the Pharisees response but I would imagine they were stunned.

If you are a regular part of our community here at Beacon or any other Scripturally based church community, you are likely very familiar with this passage and what Jesus says here. However, we can often lose our ears to hear commands like this when we hear them so frequently. What Jesus is saying here is deeply counter cultural and wildly radical. He is commanding us to place God above every other thing that exists and to pursue him with every atom of our existence. This flies in the face of our self obsessed and self worshiping culture. It tears down all of our idols. It tears down the idols of money, sex, power, family, politics, and literally everything else and puts God in his rightful place. When we live this way, we are radically different from everyone around us. Jesus is also commanding us to treat others as we would like to be treated. Essentially we are to place others before ourselves. Is there a statement that could be more counter cultural and radical in 2021 America? In a self-obsessed age of social media so many of us are placing ourselves not only above our neighbors but above God. We have made mini gods of ourselves and now feel entitled to live our lives as though the rest of the world either doesn’t exist, is inferior to us, or is evil. The last one is the most insidious. When we place ourselves on the pedestal of being a mini god, we can often classify anyone who is not with us as being evil. And if they are evil, we can justify many objectionable choices. Christ’s command annihilates all of this. He shatters the pedestals we place ourselves on and points to our neighbors and tells us that we are to treat them like we want to be treated. There is no qualification. There is no unless at the end of the sentence. No matter what that person believes, says, or does we are to treat them as we wish to be treated. This does not excuse sin and it does not excuse the consequences that person may face for their sin. But it does change how we act in relation to them. And that is vital. If we are to call ourselves followers of Christ, then we are to pursue God with our entire selves and with a laser focus and we are to treat EVERYONE around us the way we want to be treated, without any exception. That is RADICAL. And it is also awesome.

When we recognize that God sits on the throne of heaven and pursue him accordingly and then treat our neighbors as we want to be treated, we are bringing Christ’s kingdom into the world. We are becoming ambassadors of our Savior, we are acting as his hands and feet, we are embracing our role as ministers of his grace in its various forms. And as we do that, we are shining light into a dark and deeply flawed world. We are shining light that the world needs in a desperate way. We are bringing healing into a world that is broken and in deep pain. That is our call as Christians. We all work that out in various ways. The important thing is that we are all living these radical commands in the places God has called us.

This new year has already been a challenge. We are bearing witness to events that many of us could never have imagined even just a few years ago. We are watching an ever increasing gap between the richest and the rest of us. We are seeing riots spread across our nation. We are seeing economic distress that is difficult to comprehend. We are seeing drugs and alcohol drag our loved ones into the grave. And on top of all of that, we have the pandemic and everything that goes along with that. So many of us are glued to our phones and our cable news channels of choice and living in an echo chamber of our chosen positions. But none of that is what Christ commands in Matthew 22. In those few verses, he commands us to love God and love others. Pastor Rob was wise enough to remind me of that this past Sunday. And his reminder has changed how I have viewed what is happening around me.

I want to leave you with this. I want to encourage you to turn off your TV, put down your phone, disconnect from the internet. Just for a day or two. Look around you. Who needs a listening ear? Who needs a phone call or a note in the mail? Who in your life needs you to be Jesus to them? Pray about that and then take a step and reach out. As you seek Christ and seek to serve others, you will certainly be blessed.

Josh Cervone