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Welcome to worship for Sunday, October 29, 2023.
Thomas Freidman is a best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist with the New York Times. I have been aware of his thoughtful commentary for 25 years or more. Recently I heard him give an interview about his perspective on the tragedy and crisis unfolding in Israel and Gaza. Make no mistake, he is crystal clear that Hamas upended the fragile equilibrium that had previously existed, with its violent and horrifying actions on October 7.
What he said that was new to me was that prior to this, Israel was on the cusp of normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia. The belief is that this could have the potential of expanding acceptance between Israel and other Muslim nations. This is something that Iran, the principal supporter of Hamas and committed to the destruction of Israel, could not abide. The chaos and catastrophe which has followed is the plan of Iran and Hamas to interrupt that peacemaking process.
However, the most important thing Friedman said was that he found it possible to also question Israel’s actions in Gaza historically and currently. He talked about the need/necessity to think about two different things at the same time. And he lamented how few people are willing or able to do this. As I read about competing demonstrations in Winnipeg last week, held at the same place and at the same time, clearly infuriating one another and inflaming the situation, I can’t help but think that Friedman is right, why is it so difficult to think and talk about two things at the same time.
If the answer to the question, what is the greatest commandment, is to love God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul AND to love your neighbour as yourself, then Jesus is challenging us think about two different things at the same time and thus to perceive a connection between them. But that is exactly what he does.
To my mind there is nothing new in this. It is not difficult to see in the ten commandments, five which give instruction about loving God (no false images, no name in vain) and five about loving neighbour (no stealing, killing, etc.). Psalm 23 is one of two halves that say the same. The zealousness of Elijah is countered by God’s still small voice. The images of the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah (where the lamb lies down with the lion) and the famous rhetorical question of Micah (what does the Lord require of you?) teach the same dual understanding. John the Baptist preaches to repent AND give the shirt off your back. And Paul’s discourse in 1 Corinthians 13 says that faith without love and works without love are both empty and meaningless.
Jesus stands in his own sacred tradition when he teaches that authentic religion must show love of God and love of neighbour together and connected. The alternatives are untenable. Love of God and hatred of neighbour is life without compassion. Love of neighbour and hatred of God is life without wonder. Hatred of God and hatred of neighbour is no life at all.
But love of God and love of neighbour, two gifts held together by Spirit, is life in abundance.
Grace and peace,
- Michael Wilson’s book “A Pastoral Pandemic: Remaining Connected in a Time of Disconnection” is available in store and online through CommonWord Bookstore (Canadian Mennonite University). For more information visit: https://www.commonword.ca/go/3408.
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- The reading for this week’s service can be found at: Matthew 22:34-46