One day, the Sadducees and Pharisees were particularly upset with Jesus and they tried to “trick” or “trap” him into saying something that could prove he was not the Son of God. Their day was not going as planned when the Pharisees asked Jesus a fantastic question. Now, they had the worst of intentions when asking it, but the fact that Jesus answered this question, the fact that we know what the answer is, has in many ways defined the church for the last 2,000 years.
A really smart person once told me that a question is only as good as the answer it gets. So maybe it isn’t that the question itself was all that special, but the answer they got sure was. If I were one of the disciples, I would have been kicking myself for not asking a question that got the same answer.
We find the question and Jesus’ response in Matthew 22:34-40.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Love God with all you’ve got and Love your neighbor as yourself. If 613 commandments from the Law of Moses seems a little overwhelming, then focus on these two, a lot of other things will start to fall into place if you do. If we woke up everyday and thought about how we can love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we would probably be living a good life.
In church we talk about loving God all the time (as we should). We also talk a lot about loving others, but I think that is the harder of the two commandments to completely understand and live out. Not that loving God is always easy for everybody, but God is perfect. We may question Him, doubt Him or not understand what he is up to, but for those of us who have a relationship with Him, we have seen time and time again how much God loves us and cares for us.
As for the second commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself, that one is tough for a few reasons.
We recently did the Reveal Study as a church, and there was a question it asked that stopped me in my tracks. I don’t remember the exact wording but it was essentially asking do you love each of your neighbors as yourself? I wanted to say Strongly Agree. I want that to be true of me. But I couldn’t do it.
There are at least a couple of reasons why. First, I’m selfish. If Jesus had just said to love your neighbors, the bar would be far lower. To love them as yourself? That’s a whole other level of love. Everyday I learn more and more about how much I actually love myself and there are days I am concerned I just don’t have enough love left for others.
More importantly, I know that I haven’t always loved my African-American neighbors like I love myself, or my Hispanic neighbors like I love myself or, well you get the point, my list could go on for a while.
I want to love them like I love myself. I want to be a part of helping them have the same opportunities I have and I absolutely do not want to have to tell my grandkids one day that nothing has really changed for our neighbors who just happen to have different color skin than I do.
Just for some reference, the Reveal Study I mentioned earlier sent results back a few weeks ago. We were really encouraged by the results. One of the sections sort of scored us in 5 of the fruits of the spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience and Self-Control. The question I mentioned fell under Love, and we as a church scored at a 91 in Love. That is great, that is well into what they call above average. However on the other four, we scored a 100. That is great, but it also tells me something, I am not the only one who marked myself down for my inability to love others as myself. I have to admit, I am glad I am not the only one, but it also tells me we have work to do. We have to learn to love like Jesus.
It will take time, but I sincerely hope that each of us is taking this moment to take a really good look at ourselves to see where we fall short of loving our neighbors as ourselves, especially those who have a different ethnic, social or economic background to you. I hope that leads to conversations with your spouse, family, friends, co-workers etc. They won’t be easy sometimes, but they are some of the most important conversations we can have. We have to be able to be honest about where we fall short and hold each other accountable.
God loves us all and views us all as His children regardless of where we come from,what we look like, or what we’ve done. My prayer for us all is that we can view each of our neighbors through the eyes of Christ who died for each and every one of us.