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Which commandment is the greatest?

Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?

Have you ever wanted to get back at someone who’s embarrassed you in front of your peers? In the book of Matthew there’s a story about when the rule-keeping religious leaders had been silenced by Jesus, another group called the Pharisees gathered together. They gathered together to try to come up with a question that would trip Jesus up, that would expose him for the charlatan they believed him to be.

They could have asked Jesus many questions. “Where did God come from? Is God married? How old is God?”

But they asked Jesus, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Jesus’ answer was remarkable. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it – You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

It’s interesting to see that Jesus did more than they asked him to do. Jesus gave two commandments in reply to their question.

There was nothing in Jesus’ reply to which the Pharisees could have taken exception. The Hebrew word that we translate “first” means not just numerically first, but also first in importance. Jesus clarified his answer by saying that to love God with all your heart is not only the first but also the “greatest” commandment.

What did Jesus mean by “love?” What did he mean by “neighbor?”

Jesus’ reply uses perhaps the most dangerous four-letter word in the English language. That word is “love.”

What makes the word “love” so dangerous is the fact that it’s repeated a thousand times a day on radio and TV, and yet most of the time those who use it don’t really mean love at all. But when Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, he used the word agape.

Agape is the sort of love with which God loves us. Feelings are secondary; behavior is everything. But notice that love of God precedes love of neighbor.

Do you think it’s redundant to say, “Love God and love your neighbor?”

I think that Jesus identified the “great and first commandment” as “love God” and then followed quickly with “and love your neighbor as yourself” because it’s possible to love others, or at least be concerned with the needs of others, without taking into account the spiritual dimension of life.

There are those who are passionately concerned with the care of the hungry and the homeless, who have no awareness of the spiritual nature and spiritual needs of human beings. However, it’s very important to not separate the spiritual aspect of life from our physical aspect of living.

Rabbi Harold Kushner points out that “the difference between a person who relies only on himself and a person who has learned to turn to God for help is not that one will do bad things, while the other will do good things. The self-reliant atheist may be a fine, upstanding person. The difference is the atheist is like a bush growing in a desert. If he has only himself to rely on, when he exhausts his internal resources he runs the risk of running dry and withering. But the man or woman who turns to God is like a tree planted by a stream. What they share with the world is replenished from a source beyond themselves, so they never run dry.”

Let’s also pay attention to what Jesus did not say. He did not say “serve God” or “obey God.” Jesus said “love God.”

So, just who are these neighbors that Jesus wants us to love?

Our neighbor is any person who has needs that we are aware of and whom we can help.

I don’t know about you, but all this leaves me feeling uncomfortable. What a huge challenge.

But before we throw up our hands and give up, let’s at least try. Let’s try, even though we might fail.

God doesn’t ask us to love our neighbors with the perfect love of perfect hearts because God knows that we do not have perfect hearts.

And we might find in trying to love that we succeed in loving. And we will find, in the end, that loving our neighbors is not an accomplishment, it’s God’s gift, for it is by the grace of God that we are able to love at all.

Please mark your calendars and bring the entire family to our annual Trunk-n-Treat in our church parking lot – 2633 Denver St., Saturday, Oct. 29, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Lots of candy, games and free hot dogs for children 12 and under. Go to themetchurch.org for more info.

Rev. Dan Koeshall is the Senior Pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met) in San Diego, California, themetchurch.org.

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Posted by on Oct 27, 2011. Filed under Where's the Faith?. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “Which commandment is the greatest?”

  1. “The self-reliant atheist may be a fine, upstanding person. The difference is the atheist is like a bush growing in a desert. If he has only himself to rely on, when he exhausts his internal resources he runs the risk of running dry and withering. ”

    Bull – the atheist relies on her/himself and family and friends. The idea that somehow the atheist has no “hope” and is therefore unable to deal with difficult times is one of the oldest slanders out there. Atheists are obsessed by making this life better – you will never hear one say that it will all be sorted out in the next (it won’t).

  2. Amen! As we say at Our Spirit, a spiritual resource for LGBT youth, “Love… that’s the whole story.”

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