The Greatest Commandment

In honor of Mrs. & Rev. Lim Chong-Iau and Sia So hong's 80th Birthday

Matthew 22:34-40

2007/3/16 Shirley Lin 講於萬里太平洋會館(原文英文,林皙陽翻譯

Our lives are dictated by rules and laws; no matter where we go, no matter what we do. Laws and rules exist on every level. From international laws to city laws, our lives are governed by sets of laws in place, which we follow. In school, at work, even in the family, laws are all around us. The Bible is no different. The Old Testament had many laws. The most famous of which were the 10 commandments, which God gave to Moses.

In today’s passage, Jesus answered the age-old question of which commandment was most important. Chapter 22 in the Gospel of Matthew is full of instances where the Jewish leadership tests Jesus. Both the Sadducees and the Pharisees had hoped to stump Jesus in order to discredit him, because they knew that Jesus had authority that they could never possess.

Jesus knew that they were trying to trap him with their question, and yet he was able to answer the question in a way that was satisfactory to all, causing the Pharisees to get even angrier. And that’s where our passage started. The Pharisees were blinded by rage. Who did this Jesus of Nazareth think he is?! He was the son of a carpenter. It wasn’t even like he was born into a high class. How dare Jesus try to teach the people what was right.

Thought the Sadducees failed, they were going to finally stump Jesus. After all, there was no greater authority on the law than the Pharisees. They had dedicated their entire lives to the study of Jewish law. So they asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is. And Jesus answered them with one simple idea. Love God with everything you have. And then he went on to tell them the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbors.

Though it sounds like an easy thing to do, these are not simple endeavors. Jesus did not simply command us to do something. While he did teach us what to do, Jesus also demonstrated for us what was right. This all culminated in his sacrifice of his life for us, in obedience to God, on the cross.

Great teachers do not simply teach, but they also demonstrate; they show us through their actions, like Jesus did. I never met Jesus. I’ll be you never have either. So how is it that we can really understand what it means to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds? What does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves?

 The answer, of course, is that we have to be taught. 

We have to be diligent in reading the Bible, to try to understand God’s Word, and we have to observe the actions of others. For me, I was taught to live by these two most important commandments, because I had two great teachers; two great examples. They are the reason that we are all gathered here today.

 My A-Gong and A-Ma.

 Not only do they speak about the law and rules, but they live by them and exemplify what it means to be a Christian and a loving neighbor. In fact, it was A-Ma who taught me to pray. 25 years ago, she taught me that it was important to give thanks to God for everything that He has giving me. This was important, especially at meal time. After all, without God’s blessings, there would be no fertile earth to nurture the food. The prayer that she taught me remains with me, until this day. Before I eat, I still say that prayer that A-Ma taught me, so many years ago, when I was a child.

And the prayer goes like this, <I will say the prayer in Taiwanese> Moreover, when I am at home in Taiwan, I will always see her reading the Bible and praying, every day.

 Like the common people of Jesus’ day. I have questions about my faith too. I have questions about what God really wants us to be. When I was in the 11th grade, I was faced with a conundrum. A concern, really. You see, my high school had a fairly liberal student population. There were many students at my school who would identify themselves as gay or bisexual.This was my first experience with homosexuality, really.

Though this was slightly before the whole gay marriage thing really blew up, there were still detractors saying that the Bible and God was against homosexuals. Now, I had known some of these people for a few years. It had never been a problem before for me. But now, I wondered. Would God really be so mean as to condemn these people to hell like some of these Christians thought?

Well, I was only 16. I couldn’t get the answer on my own, so I went to the best source of these kinds of information that I knew. That weekend, in our weekly phone call to A-Gong and A-Ma, I laid it all out. And he said, “we are not the judges. God is the judge.” A-Gong told me that, as Christians, we are not called to know whether their lifestyles were damned or not. We are simply called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I learned something incredible that day. That exchange happened almost 10 years ago, but as I find my way in the faith, I have never forgotten those wise words or the meaning behind it. Love is how Christians were called to live our lives and that is what I need to strive for. Even today, I strive to live by those words. More than ever, especially as a seminarian and a chaplain, I have found many instances where I simply needed to be loving, rather than judgmental.

In different ways, A-Gong and A-Ma have demonstrated the essence of being a Christian, not just for me, but for everyone in this room. As I started taking on more duties of translating my dad’s sermons, I couldn’t help but notice the many occasions in which he mentioned the impact that A-Gong and A-Ma have had on his life, whether it was teaching him to read the Bible, to pray, or having family fellowship.

A-Gong and A-Ma aren’t just the typical grandparents. They are also people of God, follower of Jesus, and Great teachers who live out their beliefs every single day of their life. Sometimes, wisdom creeps upon us. In the Bible, this happens when God “opens our eyes” to see what we otherwise cannot see. I have felt this happening over the years, especially during the last year.

This last year was a significant year for me. It was in this last year that I really felt the call of God to become ordained as a chaplain. This is a job that requires both loving God and loving our neighbor. During this time, I have had to struggle with issues such as suffering and caring for patients. What really came to mind for me were A-Gong and A-Ma.

In all the time that I have known her, A-Ma has always been sick. Sometimes, even very sick. But I have never once heard her complain to God. Though she is always in pain, she bears this pain without any grudge or anger toward God. What is suffering?

I can see suffering, but I cannot define it. And from what I see, I see that true freedom isn’t a freedom from suffering, but the transcendence from the suffering; to know that suffering happens, but God is always with us. And when God is with us, we are strong. Every day of her life is a testament to the grace and mercy of God, in spite of the suffering and the pain. So how do we tend to that suffering?

I learned from observing A-Gong that it is our presence. This is an inexplicable presence. Again, I can see it, but I cannot define it. I see that every gesture demonstrates love, every word provides encouragement, and every prayer provides hope. This kind of presence can only be achieved when we have the God within us and the heart to love our neighbors, we give off this presence. And those with whom we come in contact become comforted. These are not things that can be shared through words, because words cannot do justice to the actions and the living presence of A-Gong and A-Ma.

We as a family have come together during this time so we can celebrate a remarkable landmark. We are celebrating the 80th birthdays of two of the most faithful examples of Christians we know. We are here to give thanks to God for providing us with the gift of time to share with each other, with these two incredible influences that have drastically changed our lives.

Maybe I would still be able to find words of thanksgiving to God before my meals and answers to theological questions without A-Gong and A-Ma’s influence in my life. Maybe I would still find my way to become a hospital chaplain. But I know that it would be a much harder journey without already knowing what to do from witnessing a lifetime of example.

Jesus taught us that what God calls us to do is to love God with all our hearts, all our souls and with all our minds. And to also love our neighbors as ourselves. These are difficult tasks, but they have been made easier to understand because God has blessed us with the living examples of A-Gong and A-Ma. We have become who we are because of them. For this, we humbly thank God for His blessings.