Today I think our Scriptures call us to get love right. Love is an important thing for Christians because we know that God is love, and that we are called to love. But what we sometimes define love to be, and what we often settle for is so much less than what it’s supposed to be.
Let’s set this up quickly. In our Gospel today, the Pharisees are at it again. They saw that Jesus silenced the Sadducees, a rival party, and so they wanted to put him to the test yet again. So they ask him a classic trick question: “Which commandment of the Law is the greatest?” It’s a question that scholars of the law back then argued about all the time: there were 613 commandments in the Jewish law, so which of them was most important? You can just imagine the arguments about it. So they pose the question to Jesus, not so much to see where he stands on the subject, but rather so they could have something to hold against him. That’s the whole point here.
But Jesus isn’t having any of it. He boils all of the law and the prophets down to just two basic commandments: love the Lord your God with everything that you are, and then also love your neighbor as yourself. And when you think about it, this is so common-sense. If we love God and neighbor, there won’t be any room for sin or crime or war or anything else bad. It’s so simple. And yet so hard to do.
But it shouldn’t be that way: it shouldn’t have been hard for the Pharisees and it shouldn’t be hard for us either. The Pharisees made up the strongest part of the religious establishment of the time. They were so concerned about getting the law right, that they often missed the whole point of the law in the first place. The law came from none other than God himself, and he gave it for the good of the people, but the Pharisees used it to keep people under their thumb, which was what they were trying to do to Jesus here.
And God is all about justice. So if that’s how he wanted it, the law would indeed be very rigid. But as we see from the small sample of the law we have in our first reading, God wanted justice to be tempered with mercy. Sure, go ahead and take your neighbor’s cloak as collateral on a loan. But you better give it back to him before sundown, because that’s all he has to keep him warm in the night.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to those of us who have learned that God is love. God is love itself, and God cannot not love. That’s what God does and who God is: he loves us into existence, loves us in repentance, loves us with mercy, and loves us to eternity. God is love in the purest of all senses: that love which wills the good of the other as other.
So when Jesus boils the whole Judaic law down to two commandments, it’s not like he’s made it easy. As I said; it is simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. It means giving the person who just cut you off in traffic a break, because you don’t know what’s really going on in their life. It means showing kindness to your family after a long day, even when they’re testing your patience. It means finding ways to be charitable and help those less fortunate. And, I’ll just say it, it means cutting yourself some slack when you mess up, even when you’ve just committed the sin you’ve been trying to stamp out of your life forever. You have to love yourself if you are going to do what Jesus said: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So in the quiet time of our worship today, perhaps after receiving Holy Communion, maybe our prayer could be “Help me, God, to love as you love.” That’s a really appropriate prayer after Communion because in Holy Communion, we have just received Love itself, we have received our Jesus who laid down his life so that we would not be dead in our sins. If anyone can teach us how to love, it’s Jesus.
The whole law and the prophets depends on love. The way we live our lives needs to show that we depend on love too.