We so easily forget what is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus condemned the religious leaders of his day for their distortion, their corruption of the faith. He said, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Mt. 23:4) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Blind guides.” Mt. 23:15,16.
Unlike the religious leaders of his day, Jesus preached a message that liberated people and they thronged to hear him. That message is the gospel. The word “gospel” you probably know means “good news.” And people are not sorry to hear good news!
Jesus showed the people who God is. Jesus said that the law can be summarized in two commands, to love God heart, soul, mind and strength, and one’s neighbor as oneself. On those two commandments, Jesus taught, depend all of the law and the prophets. Do you know what that means? Loving God and loving neighbor summarize the whole Bible. (By Bible here Jesus means the Old Testament! We include the New Testament now, of course, but when Jesus made these statements the New Testament did not yet exist).
Jesus showed people what God is really about. God is not about the bleating of sheep going to be slaughtered and their blood splashed on the altar. God is not about the throngs of people pushing each other and tempers flaring as hundreds of thousands of people pushed each other to get to the Temple at Passover. God is not about following the most minute rule in the law. God is about love.
So when Jesus opened peoples’ eyes with his preaching, he literally carried them to heaven. No one had ever told them God was like this, even though it is in the scriptures. But you see when they heard the truth about a loving God, all of a sudden they knew this was truth that had been hidden all the while. Their hearts soared.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is about love. God’s love. Agape (the Greek word for God’s love – a self-giving love that loves for the sake of the beloved. It is pronounced ah-gah-pay). Love is the aorta pulsing with truth throughout the body of the Bible. Love is the sinew, the muscle, the flesh – the heart of the scriptures. It is the ribbon tying the whole thing together. When people saw this, they realized that this was the very thing for which they had been yearning all along. It was like a treasure hidden in a field. It was like a pearl of great price. With St. Augustine the people felt, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” Jesus burst open the dam that kept people from God and out flowed an exhilarating desire to know God and worship him.
Our faith is true when it is loving. Paul wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13) Without love? It is nothing.
Will you pray with me? Lord help us when our faith becomes a burden. Lord free us when our faith becomes shackles holding us back from love. Lord set our hearts aflame when the embers die out and our hearts hold nothing but cold ash. You are love, and we thank you. It is almost too good to be true that you are our Father in heaven who loves his children. Empower us to give you the love you want from us, heart, soul, mind and strength and to love one another. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.