Beloved Members of St. Martin’s,
One of my favorite books and movies of all time is The Princess Bride. I love its blend of, as one character lists at one point, “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles.”
The book centers around a grandfather reading a book to his sick grandson, so there’s a book within a book. The grandson is skeptical, but the grandfather talks him into it, and off they go. Only a few pages into it, though, the boy stops his grandfather, who is describing how the main characters meet and fall in love. “Hold it, hold it—are you trying to trick me? Is this a kissing book?” he asks with disgust. The grandfather urges his grandson to let him continue reading. Sure enough, soon there’s plenty of fencing, fighting, giants, miracles, and torture. There’s even rhymes. But in the end, the book—and the sharing of the book-- is about love. All kinds of it.
The entire book is distilled down to the idea that love is the greatest thing in the world—and that there are many ways to show love. You can show it by doing whatever you can to make the one you love happy, even in as small a thing as handing her a water pitcher she could have gotten herself but that she asks you for just so she can be near you. You can show love by never giving up on rescuing the one you love even if you think they’ve forgotten about you. You can show love by never forgetting the beloved father you lost in childhood, and doing anything you can to seek justice for him. You can show it by spending an entire day sharing a special book with someone you love, even if you have to convince them repeatedly to stick with you. Truly, there are dozens of ways love is demonstrated in this sweet, funny, fairy tale. In the book that is read to the grandson, and in the book about reading to the grandson, love is the common thread that holds the parallel stories together.
In the book the grandfather reads to his grandson, the hero, Westley, faces all kinds of opponents, and he overcomes or wins over every one—even the giant. Looking backward from this weekend’s gospel reading from Matthew 22 over the last several weeks, Jesus has now come full circle in being confronted by nearly all the major factions and parties of the day within Israel. The scribes, chief priests, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and now the Pharisees again, but this time adding in a lawyer—they all have now confronted Jesus and questioned him and his authority. And now, a lawyer asks Jesus which of the 613 commandments in the Torah is the greatest.
Jesus insists that the law within the law is love.
Think about what Jesus DOESN’T say God’s law is about. He doesn’t say it’s about believing certain things- especially ones that Christians nowadays often argue about. He doesn’t say it’s about who will get into heaven or “personal salvation.” He doesn’t say it’s about casting out folk you don’t like or don’t approve of. He doesn’t say it’s about being RIGHT. He doesn’t say it’s about God being vengeful or punitive.
Jesus says the sum of God’s instruction to us is about LOVE. And further, he states very clearly that the best way to put your love for God into action is by loving those around you—your neighbors, whether you even like them or not, your political opponents, people who have done wrong-- it doesn’t matter. He equates those two things as being the same. The love that Jesus talks about is grounded in action, not emotion—living with compassion and generous acceptance for all—especially those we are prone to look down on.
Our entire culture tries to convince us that love shouldn’t be hard work. The mere fact that Jesus has to keep telling us to do it tells us that it IS.
In the midst of war, and disasters, and disease, and loss, and the fomenting of division by those seeking power everywhere, what if we were to try to live by Jesus’s law of love, one opponent at a time?
It would be a miracle.
In Christ’s love,