The Greatest Commandment
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.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I am not a theologian. I don’t have any degrees in the study of religion. By all accounts, I’m just a layperson.
Naturally, this means that my insights are likely to be relatively simple in comparison to those made by people who study theology for a living. Most of the time I’m okay with that, because I’ve been taught that every person’s relationship with Christ is unique, and I’ve gathered along the way that people are always advancing in their spiritual journeys at different paces. Something I’ve recently come to understand and think is revelatory may be old news to others.
I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on the passage up top. When the Pharisees interrogate Jesus here, he explains to them plainly that loving God is the greatest commandment, and the second greatest is like it: loving your neighbor as yourself.
I think this is an important passage. God is defined by his capacity for love in my mind, and any attempts to imitate him involve trying to act out of love with the utmost effort towards everyone I meet, regardless of their reactions to me. The difficulty, I find, does not usually come from a lack of motivation. I genuinely want to be as loving as possible to people, though like everything, I occasionally fail in my motivation. More often, I fail in my action.
Love is a hard thing to do.
Have you ever stopped to think about what love in action looks like? I know there’s the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 that describes love, but that’s all very abstract. About half of it is also just Paul describing what love is not. Here’s what he says that love does in that passage: rejoices in the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The rest of the 1 Corinthians passage describes some of the characteristics of love (patient and kind) as well as what love doesn’t do (envy, boast, be proud, dishonor others, be self-seeking, be easily angered, keep a record of wrongs, delight in evil).
I find this list a little troublesome, because it’s akin to the answer to how you make a statue of an elephant (take a stone and cut away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant). Love as a positive, assertive action, is difficult to pin down. Paul made some good observations on what love looks like; to be loving, you should celebrate the truth, try to protect, try to trust, and no matter what, continue to hope for something better than what is now.
The difficulty of all this is that what it ultimately implies is that to do love, one must be willing to be vulnerable to love’s absence.
That doesn’t really feel like doing anything though, does it? And that’s what we crave–action.
It has been pointed out to me in the past that “showing love” is an incredibly vague mission statement. And yet, that’s the core commandment that Christ gives us. Love God, and love one another.
How do we do that though?