Pastor Chris Tweitmann
This Sunday, at our monthly combined service and annual Chili Cook-off, we will close out one sermon series and set the stage for the fall series. For a good part of the summer we have been getting behind the full meaning of key biblical words by considering them in the original language of Hebrew or Greek. To date we have explored the richness and nuance of biblical themes like “listening,” “Lord,” “love,” “the heart,” “the soul,” “strength,” “hope, and “joy.” Our focal text for doing this work together has been Deuteronomy 6:4-9, a foundational teaching and prayer known as the Shema.
The last word we will be considering is not found in the Shema. It comes from Jesus’ quoting of the Shema in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is asked a question by a lawyer – a teacher of the Mosaic Law: “What is the greatest of all the commandments?”
This is no simple inquiry, however, as Luke offers a brief aside to let us know the lawyer who asked it intended to set a trap. You see, the lawyer already knew the answer. Every observant Jew already knew the answer. The answer is the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the first scripture every Jewish child is taught to memorize, and the prayer repeated at least twice daily but a faithful Jew.
In answer to an attempt to trip him up, Jesus answers as anticipated – sort of. He quotes the Shema, but he fuses it with a command from Leviticus 19:18. In making this marriage, Jesus elevates this single verse as being of equal importance as the Shema, the foundational faith declaration and observance of Israel. Ever since He did so, it’s become one of the most famous lines in the Bible: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Without missing a beat, the lawyer askes Jesus a follow-up question: “But who is my neighbor?” This is where things get interesting because by the time of Christ, this seemingly basic command out of the book of Leviticus had become subject to many different interpretations. The Hebrew word for “neighbor” is REY’A. Some understood “neighbor” to refer to those within the community of Israel, in other words, fellow Jews. Others argued that “neighbor” meant someone who was relationally close to you, that is, a friend.
Against the backdrop of varying opinions as well as the ancient Near Eastern world of wars, slavery, class and ethnic distinctions and discriminations of all kinds, the lawyer asks Jesus to weigh in on the definition of REY’A, of “neighbor.” Which is it — fellow or friend? How will Jesus answer this controversial question?
We all know the story Jesus tells by way of His answer. You’re invited to join us this week as we get behind the word that sparks the story, the word for neighbor, REY’A. What we’ll learn might surprise us like it did the lawyer. Where we will end up will find us being asked a question by Jesus, again like the lawyer, and our answer will reveal just how close or how far we are in actually following Christ. You’re not going to want to miss this sermon as what is established in this message sets the stage for our next sermon series – the unveiling of the narrative and the plan for our community’s future as Grace. It all starts here with a verse, prior to Jesus’ quoting it, that only appears one time in the entire Old Testament. But ever since Jesus spoke these words, they’ve become part of what is known as the Greatest Commandment.
Grace to you!