July Reflection By Richard Parrish Pastors, Prophets, Priests, and New Beginnings
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:34-40
Most people would say they desire world peace. Yet, most believe it is not going to happen in our lifetime. After all, loving our neighbors isn’t always easy. And, our ability to love God – though we may try with all of our might – is feeble at best.
Jesus’ answer to the question offered by the Sadducee (the “expert in the Law”) is a viable solution to conflict. In fact, if all of us did this, world peace might be more feasible.
Though Jesus’ answer was not new, it reinforced what Israel had been taught from the days of Moses: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4-5) and, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:18).
The problem for the “expert” – and us – is not ignorance of these commands but our inability to consistently obey them. Even our best efforts prove insufficient. But we’re not alone. A quick scan from the biblical narrative of the human condition reveals that people fail and forget to love God and neighbor perfectly.
Despite our failure and forgetfulness, God never fails us – or forgets us. He is gracious in offering us the opportunity to start all over again!
We’re familiar with new beginnings. Failed marriages, businesses, and mortgages force many people to start fresh. Tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods that destroy entire communities demand re-starts. And our failure to love God and our neighbor as ourselves also places us in a position that requires a new beginning.
Contrary to those who view God as punishing, abusive, and harsh when we fail to love Him, Scripture accurately displays God as loving, kind, generous, merciful, and full of grace!
God has many ways to help us with fresh beginnings. One method God uses is the office of priests and prophets. They remind us of forgiveness when we fail (one of the functions of a priest), and they remind us of how we have forgotten God (a role of the prophet). Both priest and prophet move us toward being honest about God and ourselves.
The message (for a prophet) is always more important than the concern of what others might think. Urgency transcends the fear of rejection. And being faithful to God is the consistent and dominant drive common to prophets.
Prophets are not always popular. It’s unusual for a prophet to be invited for dinner the second time! History is full of examples of prophets who spoke for God to the people. Even credible prophets, at times, chose strange and abnormal ways to act out the message. Jeremiah buried his underwear (Jeremiah 13:1-7), and Isaiah walked around naked for three years (Isaiah 20). Despite these unusual demonstrations, their message was sound.
Now I’m not suggesting we arbitrarily accept any message spoken by anyone. However, I wonder if we have become too biased, distracted, or calloused to listen to any message?
History reveals that God uses priests and prophets because the very nature of the human species is prone to fail and forget to love God and neighbor!
In his book The Jesus Creed, author and theologian Scot McKnight reminds us:
“A priest speaks for humans to God in the privacy of the temple. A prophet speaks for God to humans in the publicity of the town square. Priests wiped sins from people; prophets wiped sins in their faces. Most importantly, priests summoned people to tell the truth so they could make restitution. Prophets summoned people to tell the truth so they could start all over again.”
For those of us who fail:
God loves it when we tell the truth about ourselves. To acknowledge our inability to love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength -- or to love our neighbor as we should -- helps us remember Christ’s command! It frees us to receive forgiveness and hear words of absolution from our High Priest, Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven!”
For those of us who forget:
God is no less generous. He uses prophets to remind us of the two most important priorities in life. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind -- and love your neighbor as yourself.
O God: I too frequently fail to love you – and my neighbor -- as I should. Forgive me. I’m prone to forget you. Please remind me.
- Richard Parrish
Who are the people in my life that I fear offending?
Is there a specific reason you are afraid to offend those people? What is it?
What would you need to do to offend God? Have you done it?
When was the last time you considered the priorities in your life?
If you were to rank the relationships that matter to you most, where does God fall?
Do your life choices represent your answer above? Why or why not?
Do you or someone you know need some encouragement for the road? My book, Hope for the Journey, is available as an ebook or a paperback. Get a copy today and start rediscovering the confident hope you can have in your relationship with God.