All the Law and the Prophets – a reflection by Isaac Lyons

The following is the text of the reflection delivered by Isaac Lyons at the Holy Ground service on Sunday, 27th February.

In Matthew, Jesus is asked: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”


And he replies: “ ‘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 neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Later in Luke, Jesus is asked: ““But who is my neighbour?” and he famously responds with the parable of the good Samaritan. This story tells of a man robbed, beaten and left by the side of the road. Two men pass him – first a priest and then a Levite – both men of high standing who leave the man for dead, not touching him for fear or breaking their ritual cleanliness.

But then the third man passes – a Samaritan – someone considered to be a heretic, even an enemy of the Jews. And it is the Samaritan who takes pity on the man, tends to his wounds and pays for him to be looked after. He shows him, love, treats him as if he were family, friend or loved one.

Jesus uses this story to teach us that our neighbours are not those who simply look, act and think like us.

Our neighbours may be different to us in creed, colour, class.

Our neighbours may be people who disagree with us, who are unkind to us.

Our neighbours may even be people we seen as our enemy.

And in both Matthew & Luke, Jesus clearly commands us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Jesus spoke so often of love and never did he encourage us to withhold or ration it. Jesus gives us no caveats, no get-outs, no exceptions. Love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

But that is not the lived experience of many people, both in the Church and those outside looking in.

So often the dogmatic face that the Church shows to the world often seems to many, to fail to reflect that clear, simple message of love. So often the face is one lacking in compassion and care. I hear phrases like: “I can’t go to church, I’m gay.” and “I get enough dirty looks in the street, already” and “They actively hate people like me, Isaac”.

And is it any wonder they think like that, when at a time of unprecedented need and hardship in communities across the country, the Church of England finds time as it did in 2019, to prioritise issuing guidance that all sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage are regarded as “falling short of God’s purposes for human beings”.

I don’t know what biblical references were used in that report – but it probably wasn’t Matthew or Luke. Like the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ story, the Church can give the impression that it is more concerned about breaking its ritual cleanliness, than about the needs of our neighbours.

This lack of compassion and understanding from the Church – whether real or perceived – on critical social issues such as sexuality & gender has caused harm is the past, causes harm today and will cause further harm in the future.

The Church is an organisation of people and it is flawed because we as people are flawed. But this does not mean the church – and we – cannot change. Thirty years ago there were no women priests, but in 1994 Angela Berners-Wilson was ordained. Ten years ago there were no openly gay bishops, but in 2016 The Bishop of Grantham, Nicholas Chamberlain, became the first English bishop to come out openly as gay. Did either of these events spell disaster for the Church? No. Over a third of the clergy – who were called by God to serve – are now female. The Church couldn’t function without them.

The world IS changing at a breakneck speed, and culture – the way we do things as a society – is changing fastest of all. If the Church cannot adapt culturally to communicate it message in this new world, then that message will increasingly fall on deaf ears. When Dogma shouts louder than Love, people like me are pushed away from the Church, unwanted, unwelcome and unloved by our community. And new people never make it through the door to the Church – and to the light of
Christ and the Good News that his message brings.

I know that the effect of rapid cultural change can hard – shocking, even. Young as I am, I feel this and I know that when faced with those who are different to us it can be all too easy to draw back with fear and even contempt. People today, particularly young people, people under stress, people who are suffering – are far more ready to express themselves in pretty direct terms than their parents or grandparents were. I’m a pretty liberal gay person, but yes, I can find it challenging too.

And when that happens to me, when I come into contact – or even conflict – with someone who is different to me. A different race. A different gender, sexuality or culture, would you like to do what I try to do?

Well, I don’t try to go to the policy section of the Church of England’s website.

I try to ask what Jesus calls on me to do.

Does he ask me to discriminate with my love, to ration it, holding it only for those who are worthy? Only those who think and look and act like me? Only those in good standing with the church?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

“ ‘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 neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

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