had answered them well”
The context is
controversy. It almost always is when it is a matter of spiritual truth.
Truth which unites is frequently what divides; a deeper unity may sometimes
be only found through the divisions of our hearts, when our hearts are
broken and opened to view. For then, and only then, perhaps, we discover
what it is that we believe, what it is that we stand for, if anything at
all. Sometimes it takes controversy. As the song which Mary Ann Dufour
sang last night at the variety show puts it, “you’ve got to stand for
something or you’ll fall for anything”, and everything, we might add.
There are “the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil”.
But what does
it mean to stand for something? Is it simply a matter of assertion, an
matter of self-definition which demands recognition upon no other basis than
the subjective claim about our desires and interests? Are we in fact
defined simply by our sexual and material desires? Is the truth just what
we make it? Or do we stand for something objective and received, truth that
defines us even in our untruth?
learn through controversy. Sometimes through controversy something of the
truth of God is at once communicated and received. What is to be looked for
is some deeper understanding of truth, “tam antiquo, tam novo”, “truth
so ancient and so new”.
engaged in religious disputation. “Which is the first commandment of
all?”, he is asked by a member of the literary caste, the scribes, the
writers of words which are like pictures into which we may step if we
choose. We shall never be the same for truth always confronts and convicts
us. This scribe, about whom Jesus will ultimately say, “thou art not far
from the Kingdom of God” perceived that “[Jesus] had answered them
well” and so is led to ask the overwhelming question, “which is the
first commandment of all?” He is, we might say, compelled by the truth
itself in the context of controversy and even intellectual animosity where
power is more at issue than truth. But “Jesus had answered them well”.
continues to do so in his magisterial “Summary of the Law”. The
greatest commandment is the love of God and the love of neighbour, “there
is none other commandment greater than these”. Powerful stuff.
Irrefutable stuff. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the
prophets”. And yet profoundly provocative and controversial. Why?
Because of its clarity. This clarity about charity puts everything into
perspective. It cuts through all the clutter and confusion of history and
experience. It crystallizes the whole of the Jewish Scriptures, what
Christians call the Old Testament. It is a kind of distillation of the
teachings of the Old Testament, almost, we might say, a kind of Old
Testament Creed, and certainly one which challenges many perspectives about
that remarkable collection of books and stories and poems. Is it really all
about love? How can law be love?
Because the Law
is nothing more than the expression of God’s will and truth for our humanity
and if it convicts us of our own shortcomings, as it most surely does,
especially from a Christian understanding, then it does so only to recall us
to truth. Such is repentance and prayer.
There are two
forms of turning back to God, the one is in thanksgiving, the other is in
repentance. Both are an acknowledgment of the truth of God which measures
us and not the other way around. But that measure is, ultimately, one which
redeems and sanctifies our loves and our experiences. How? By bringing
them to the truth of God without which “all loving [is] mere folly”.
of the Law”, as we have come to call it liturgically and theologically,
is not a creed. It is not, as some have wanted to suggest, the Jewish Creed
to be incorporated into the Christian liturgy as equivalent to the Catholic
Creeds. The word ‘creed’ needs to be used most advisedly; it is
really a Christian concept which should not be cavalierly read into other
contexts and situations. What makes the word ‘creed’ something
peculiarly Christian comes out in the rest of this gospel story.
Jesus, who had
answered well and answered well again, also has responded to the scribe’s
recognition of the truth of his words, saying that “thou art not far from
the kingdom of God”. “After that”, we are told, “no one dared to ask
him any questions”. But Jesus goes on to challenge certain ideas about
the Messiah, saying in effect that the Messiah of Israel is more than just a
son of David, that is to say of the royal Davidic lineage, and more than a
political saviour, (like the sought-for leader of the Conservative Party!),
because he has a more transcendent, indeed, eternal origin, namely, God;
ultimately, as we say credally, He is “God of God, Light of Light, Very
God of Very God”.
Jesus is the
Messiah who is God with us, true God and true Man. In this lies the heart
of the creeds. The focus is on the utter uniqueness of Christ as one with
the Lord God of the Old Testament to whom David, Shepherd and King, Poet and
Warrior, is also subject. “Jesus is Lord”, after all, is the
earliest form of credal statement that we have in the New Testament; a
statement which we can only say “by the Spirit”.
Here the Old
Testament is summed up by Jesus and, even more, the commandment of twofold
love is signaled as realized in Jesus himself. Something of the
transcendent truth of God is being made known even in the midst of
controversy and it is made known through scriptural interpretation;
ultimately, through an interpretation which is, at least, proto-credal
in shape and substance.
perhaps, we begin to find a way to think through our present difficulties.
We return to the Creeds and to the Scriptures credally understood, that is
to say, understood through the primacy of the categories of creation,
redemption and sanctification, and even more through the primacy of the love
of God revealed as Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy
Ghost. In the primacy of these categories and in the embrace of the
Trinity, we find the objective determinants of our humanity, and not
otherwise. And in the creeds, too, we find the principle of approach to all
questions of morality, namely, the doctrine of “the forgiveness of sins”.
There is no new
truth that stands over and against the words of Jesus. There can be, at
best, a deepening of the understanding about our humanity, though at the
same time, it has to be said, that there can equally be a loss of
understanding. With respect to the current controversy about human
sexuality, there is no third sex - a homosex, as it were. What we confront
in this debate is really a feature of consumer culture which demands that we
be defined by our appetites and desires, by the ambiguity of our so-called
orientations which have no objective basis either biologically or
biblically, instead there are only the ambiguities of the subjective
determinations of psychology and the politics of identity.
would have us defined by the redemption of our desires, calling us into the
love of God and the love of one another in honesty and truth. Here we find
the possibilities for the redemption of our friendships and our marriages,
and not their confusion. We are, all of us, whether we choose to define
ourselves as gay or straight, implicated in the sexual confusions of our
age. We need the clarity of the gospel to discover again the charity of God
without which we are nothing and nothing worth, especially in the folly of
our self-assertions. There is one who has answered well.
“He had answered them