15th Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon on the Gospel lesson from Matthew 22:35-46
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
There he is – your new brother-in-law. One of those guys who always smells good. You like him.
Your mom says he’s done really well for himself. Your dad wants to go fishing with him.
Your dad does not even like fishing. You like your brother-in-law.
But, you’d like him better if you made more money than he does… don’t get mad, get e-trade.
We cancelled our cable TV a few years ago. It simply became unwatchable. And I am not even talking about the nonsensical main stream media. It was mostly the advertisements.
Companies spend millions upon millions of dollars on marketing research to manipulate a certain behavior, to influence us, to essentially make us slaves of their products.
There have been studies made on how advertisements corrupt our minds. These studies show that today’s society is extremely self-centered. When a product is marketed to us, we are being implicitly told that that product is in our control, it is subject to our choices and to our desires. To goal of the commercials is make us feel like we are in control.
Take for example the e-trade advertisement I opened with. You can be better than you brother-in-law, your mother will think better of you, you dad will go fishing with you.
All because you will be making more money than your brother-in-law. Because everything is subject to your choice and desires. As long as you use the right product.
These kind of advertisements and messages in our popular culture have absolutely perverted the Gospel’s message about love.
“But you’d like your brother-in-law better if you made more money than he does.” What kind of message is this commercial sending?
Love others, only if you make more money than they do. Love others on your conditions. Love others only when you choose or desire to do so.
What happens if you make less money than your hypothetical brother-in-law? Well, whether you like it or not, at least subconsciously, you will experience some serious hatred.
Hate and self-love is the message that is being shoved down our throats daily. We are groomed to be completely and unconditionally self-centered. And this means, any inconvenience should be eliminated. If I can’t fulfill my self-love, it’s only because there are others who prevent me from it.
No wonder we, as a society, see no evil in killing innocent, unborn life, in abortions. Babies can be an inconvenience, eliminate them, think about yourself.
No wonder we, as a society, avoid the elderly people. Stick them into the nursing homes, they are an inconvenience. How are we going to think about ourselves if we have to care for an elderly person?
And God forbid euthanasia is ever legalized in America. Then we’d just kill the elderly, put them out of their misery. Why waste time and money on them, if we have our own desires to think about.
Seems harsh, right? Well, it is. Pay attention to what you watch. Pay attention to the advertisements, pay attention to the movies, to the news, pay attention to the music.
Don’t look at what is being sold, observe how it is being presented. I’m not proposing we stop watching TV or go online. But I am saying that if we see garbage, it has to be pointed out and avoided. Garbage should not pollute our brains or the brains of our children.
This self-centeredness is the gospel of today’s society. The message of this gospel is you, “Love yourself for being so special as yourself.” You are the gospel and a god of self-centered gospel.
There is another message, a radical message, a message spoken by God to Moses thousands of years ago. It says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The difference is subtle, but there is a difference.
When Christ is tested by a certain lawyer in today’s Gospel lesson, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?” He replies with a double answer, two for one, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is one very interesting detail in how Jesus connects these two commandments, He says that loving God is similar to loving our neighbor. The second commandment is like the first one. Think about it, loving our neighbor is like loving God.
Love God, love neighbor. What is love? Defining love correctly makes all the difference here.
Love is not a feeling. That’s another lie of the self-centered gospel.
Love, according to the way Jesus Christ lived and acted, is an action verb. It’s something that we do. In order for love to be real, in order for love to work, there needs to be someone to love.
Love only works in a relationship – with God, with a spouse, with children, with friends, even with enemies, even with the hypothetical brother-in-law who makes more money than me.
There needs to be someone to receive our love, to experience our love, to be loved. And love cannot be general. For example, if I say, “I love all humanity,” what I am really saying is that I don’t love anyone in particular. Christ said, “Love your neighbor,” not neighbors. One at a time.
Why is there such an emphasis on loving your neighbor? How come it is one of the greatest commandments?
Some people, when they hear “love your neighbor as yourself,” ask, “Does this mean that I have to love myself first before I love my neighbor? Does this mean that I can only love others if I love myself?”
There is a play on words in this commandment in the original Hebrew language. The linguists say that the meaning of “Love your neighbor as yourself” can be translated as something like this – learn to love your neighbor in order to beginto love yourself.
This just underlines the necessity of someone to receive our love. In other words, we love ourselves by loving others. We find ourselves in our neighbor. In fact, since Christ said that the two commandments to love God and to love neighbor are similar, we can say that we find ourselves and God in our neighbor.
If we focus our love inwardly, only on ourselves, we lose everything – we lose ourselves and we lose God and we lose our neighbor.
And this makes sense. Since every human being is created in the image of God, when we behold another person, we behold an image of God. When we love another person, we love God.
So yes, e-trade is absolutely wrong in claiming that in order to feel good about ourselves we need to be making more money than our brother-in-law. This is a destructive and hateful message.
In comparison, Christ’s message is radical because we have to rethink our existence in relationship to others. According to this message, if we want to feel good about ourselves, to feel fulfilled, to love ourselves, we need to love our neighbor, whoever that neighbor may be, a spouse, children, an actual next-door neighbor, a co-worker, a fellow parishioner, a random person in the store.
If we really want to begin to love ourselves, we need to learn to love our neighbor.
To Jesus Christ, Who is the source of all love, and Who loved us even to the point of death on the Cross, we give all love, glory, honor, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.