The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
If you've ever gone down to your local office supply store to buy ink cartridges for your printer, you know that the cost of said ink can feel like the equivalent of the national debt. There's some basis for this feeling, however. Compare the cost of printer ink, say, to the gas you put in a car, for example, and you'll find the relative cost to be staggering.
According to Consumer Reports, printer ink costs between $13 and $75 per ounce or a whopping $9,600 per gallon. (Toner cartridges for laser printers are even worse, so I won’t get into that!) Based on that pricing, you could get 2,917 gallons of regular gas for the cost of a single gallon of printer ink. In fact, it might be cheaper for you to buy silver (about $17 per ounce as of this writing) than print out my sermon every week.
To make matters worse, a lot of that precious ink gets wasted and never actually reaches the page. Some of the ink gets used for cleaning the print heads, some is residual and some just evaporates. That explains why you're constantly running to the store and emptying your wallet for more, not to mention the cost of the paper upon which the ink gets printed. Add to that the fact that about 40 percent of the printed paper in an average office is thrown away after just one reading and it's easy to see why hitting "print" on your computer might just be the most expensive thing you do every day. I used to print most everything (in some cases we were required to do so) where I previously worked, and it was amazing how much toner and paper we used in an average month. I’d be rich if I had that expense as income! I could use that right now while I am unemployed, well anyway ….
Professor Sean Xiao-An Zhang of Jilin University in China has a solution to this red ink problem that might just change the way we use paper and print in the future: enter the "water-jet" printer. You might be familiar with the concept of disappearing ink from watching spy movies, but this innovation uses it on a whole new level.
The printer uses paper treated with "water responsive dyes" and replaces the ink with water. When the water touches the paper it unlocks the color from the dyes and disappears when the water dries up after about 24 hours. In other words, the printed text is there for a day and then fades away. Using this method, a single piece of paper can be used multiple times for printing since it's blank again the next day. The resultant cost is only 1 percent of regular ink-jet printing.
But what good is a printed piece of paper that you can only read for 24 hours, you ask? Well, it's great for those memos that only need to be read once or for newspapers and magazines that can be printed out one day and then the paper reused for the next day's edition. It's an intriguing concept for those who prefer reading on paper but don't want to fill up the recycling bin while emptying their wallets.
The water-jet printer is great for temporary reading, but it's hard to imagine paper and ink ever being completely replaced. Figuratively speaking, however, most ink disappears after time. Think, for example, about how many documents, files and books are permanently printed but are rarely ever seen again once they're put in a file cabinet or placed on the shelf of a library. Sure, there are classic works and papers we want to preserve, and we look at them from time to time, but how much ink in the world has faded from memory? With all those trees felled and ink spilled, what is it that really lasts?
We don't know if Jesus ever put pen and ink to paper. The only time He is recorded as writing something was when the elders of the town were chasing a prostitute through town and ended at Jesus’ feet. He was said to have written something in the sand, but it was not recorded as what He actually wrote. No record exists that he ever kept a library of his own. We do know, however, that Jesus was immersed in Israel's Scriptures in a way that did not require him to carry a Torah scroll with him or keep a filing system. The text never disappeared from his memory, and the words that he spoke were so important that among tons of paper and gallons of ink ever used in history, they are the most important -- so much so that precious ink is still used to show them to the world. And maybe none of those words are as important as those spoken by Jesus in this week's passage, known to history as "The Great Commandment."
In Matthew's gospel, this passage appears in a series of rapid-fire questions from the religious authorities who are grilling Jesus in the temple. The Pharisees maintained huge libraries of commentaries about the Torah and believed themselves to be experts in the law as it appeared on ink and paper. When they heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, another religious literate group, they gathered together and had a lawyer among them ask Jesus a question designed to "test" him. The test question, or "trick" question was: "Which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
There were, of course, a lot of commandments to choose from. The rabbis of Jesus' day counted 613 commands in the law (known as “precepts”) -- 248 positive commands, corresponding to the number of parts of the body, and 365 negative commands, corresponding to the days of the year. The view was that all the commandments were equal, with any ranking of them seen as the height of human arrogance. The lawyer may have been trying to get Jesus to make a statement that disparaged one part of the law over another, like declaring the moral laws as being more important than the ceremonial laws, the latter of which Jesus already interpreted differently than the Pharisees. It's no coincidence that Matthew uses the same word "test" here as he used to describe what Satan was doing to Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). It's a trap to see which words Jesus will keep and which ones he will allow to disappear.
And so Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Jesus answers with words that were familiar to every Jew, words that were (and still are) recited every morning and evening as a prayer. The "Shema", “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) was so important that pious Jews took the commandment to "bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" literally. Little scrolls containing the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 were (and still are) worn on the foreheads of pious Jews in leather boxes called phylacteries and attached to doorposts in little containers called mezuzahs. I have a mezuzah on my front door as a matter of fact. It was a command to be carried, worn and touched. (There is one on one of the doors at Disneyland too! Of course, I had to throw that in there.)
But even more than that, it was a command to be lived. In a sense, the words on the scroll were unnecessary because they were prayed and recited daily. The irony of the "test" is that those standing in front of Jesus in their phylacteries had the text in paper and ink and yet they did not realize that in their desire for religious correctness they were allowing it to disappear.
In fact, Jesus tells the crowds to listen to the teaching of the Pharisees but not to do as they do "for they do not practice what they teach." Of all the commandments in their scrolls, Jesus says, this commandment is "the first and greatest" -- not just to be taught, but to be lived. Even if the words on the scrolls disappeared, this commandment remains permanent.
The second commandment is "like" the first: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". This commandment from Leviticus 19:18 wasn't just to be worn on the forehead, but it was to be kept in the heart and obeyed through the hands. For Jesus, love of God naturally works its way outward in love for neighbor, and love for neighbor can be an expression of love for God. If you put these two commandments together, says Jesus, you will boil down all the words of "the law and the prophets". The words printed by the water-jet printer may disappear every 24 hours, but the words of Jesus will never disappear.
In fact, it would be proper to say that we carry these words of Jesus written on us in water every day. When we're baptized or when we baptize our children, we express our love for God -- heart, soul, mind and strength -- and we are commissioned to love our neighbors. The grace, love and forgiveness we receive in baptism is to be shared, which is why the last command that Jesus gives his disciples in Matthew's gospel is to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).
The command of Christ is written in water on us as a permanent mark that can be used again and again for his glory. When we love God and love our neighbors, the word of Christ will always be visible. Real simple, but it seems so hard in our modern times.
Printer ink may be ungodly expensive and destined to be thrown away or forgotten. The watermark of love, however, is designed to last forever!
Let us pray.
That all Christians may increase their faith to know that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer)
That politicians and economists will commit themselves to resolving the world’s ills so that all may enjoy a true quality of life. We pray to the Lord.
That our government will see to helping the victims of our recent hurricanes, especially that of the devastated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico, with help and commitment in rebuilding what they have lost. We pray to the Lord.
That all workers may receive respect and protection of their rights, and that the unemployed may receive the opportunity to contribute to the common good. We pray to the Lord. (This prayer was suggested for this day by Pope Francis.)
For an end to terrorism, and for the protection of all those who serve in our country’s armed forces. We pray to the Lord.
For those suffering from debilitating illness or chronic pain; that God may strengthen and uplift them. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to live by faith in every circumstance of life. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, let Your merciful work be seen by your servants. May we experience Your gracious care. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.
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