The religious heads of Jesus’ time fell into two opposing groups. The Sadducees
were the wealthy aristocratic leaders headquartered primarily in Jerusalem.
They tended to be much more interested in politics than religion. The second
much more widespread and popular party went by the label of Pharisee. The
Pharisees lived in and around the common people and focused on the demands
of the law and personal righteousness.
While neither group could stand the other, they had a common hatred for this
upstart prophet from Nazareth that went by the name of Jesus.
Both groups loved to play, “Stump the Messiah.” They would generate some
penetrating question and then trot it out to Jesus and hope to trip him up.
One day the Sadducees had flamed out badly with a question related to marriage
and the resurrection. It was an ironic question considering the Sadducees didn’t
even believe in resurrection.
After the debacle with the Sadducees the Pharisees thought they would try their
hand with this meddlesome Messiah. After a quick sidebar they rolled out their
favorite Lawyer to pin him down with a burning question related to the law.
“Teacher,” the barrister queried, “which is the greatest commandment” (Matthew
The question was a carefully crafted minefield. In their minds the greatest
commandment was the one they recited every single day, “Hear Oh Israel the
Lord is our God the Lord is One.” They called this the Shema and it came from
Deuteronomy 6:4. Every Jew knew it by heart.
The trap was set. As soon as Jesus quoted that familiar line they would pounce
on him. “Wait, if God is one then how can you be God as you profess to be?”
Jesus shocked everyone by quoting, not Deuteronomy 6:4, but Deuteronomy 6:5,
And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL
YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’”
And then for good measure he added a second,
“The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”
I don’t know if you can feel the difference but here it is. The verse they loved to
quote was descriptive. It defined God but said nearly nothing about what that
means. The part Jesus quoted was prescriptive. It didn’t so much define the
nature of God as it prescribed the actions He wanted from followers.
I know it’s a fine distinction and I don’t mean to split hairs but the implications are
The Pharisees thought that knowledge was the most important thing. Jesus
showed them that application matters most. God is not nearly as concerned with
what you know as he is with what you do with what you know.
I think the lesson for the Pharisees is a great reminder for us.
Churches spend a lot of time studying about God. Maybe we should spend a bit
more time applying what we’ve learned.
Nine years ago the Amish showed us what it means to apply the great
commandment. It happened in Bart Township, Lancaster County Pennsylvania.
Bright young faces with their bikes and scooters parked beside the door were
sitting in rows at an Old Amish one-room-schoolhouse when a crazed gunman
burst through the door. He took hostages and then brutally shot ten little girls, all
between the ages of 6 and 13. Five died.
The story quickly burned up the Internet and news outlets.
But then the Amish did what most people could never do. They buried their
innocent children and then reached out to the family of the murderer.
Here’s the Fox News piece:
“The Amish say they are quietly accepting the deaths as God’s will.
‘They know their children are going to heaven. They know their children are
innocent … and they know that they will join them in death,’
‘The hurt is very great,’ Gertrude Huntington said. ‘But they don’t balance the hurt
In just about any other community, a deadly school shooting would have brought
demands from civic leaders for tighter gun laws and better security, and the
victims’ loved ones would have lashed out at the gunman’s family or threatened
But that’s not the Amish way.
In the aftermath of Monday’s violence, the Amish have reached out to the family
of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the
attack in a one-room schoolhouse.
Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted
the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.
Among Roberts’ survivors are his wife and three children.”
I like to read the blogs of people that don’t always share my worldview. I will
never forget one such blog. The writer tends toward the politically far left. He’s
often cynical and sometimes jaded, but the Amish reply to senseless brutality got
to him. Shortly after the tragedy my friend posted a picture of an Amish carriage.
It’s the familiar simple black buggy with the ubiquitous red triangle on back. The
photograph showed the window on the carriage with the faces of three small
children peering out.
At the top of his column he wrote: “I think the world would probably be a better
place if we were all Amish.”
Maybe the world would be a better place if Christians spent less time on knowing
about God and more time doing what He says. The Amish showed us what that