Thursday 30 May 2024

The Great One

What’s the greatest commandment?

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all have stories of Jesus being asked this question. His answer, I think, goes to the heart of what we’re all about. An appropriate way of describing that, since it’s about love.

In Mark’s account, Jesus answers by first quoting the Shema, a jewish prayer recited each morning and night: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” So. Love God. Seems simple.

Good start, but Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says there’s a second “great” commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself. There’s nothing greater than these, he says. These.

These. Of course, Jesus would want to tie God, self and neighbour together. And tie them with love. His whole life demonstrates that they’re connected. 

The divine is in all creation from the beginning. Jesus shows us how the divine is present in him to help us better understand how the divine is in us, too, and yes, that means our neighbours as well. It’s pretty simple, really. 

Loving God means loving God in creation, in ourselves and everyone else - “all my relations” is an expression of indigenous peoples that reflects this connectedness. How can one say that they love God and not love themselves, when God is in us? How can one say they love God and not love their neighbour when God is there, too? How can you love neighbour and not God? Or self and not God? However you know or understand God, God is there, how can we not love? It’s simple.

Simple, but not easy. Things get in the way, sure they do. And I bet Jesus would be the first to acknowledge that. I bet he’d also encourage us to keep trying, keep hoping, keep believing that we are inherently good and true joy comes with living love into the world as best we can.

In Mark’s account, the person who asked Jesus the question congratulates him on the right answer and says these two commandments together are more important than any “burnt offerings and sacrifices.” I wonder if this might remind us that there are things - rituals, practices, structures - to which we cling that might be the very thing that’s getting in the way of love. Not just in church, although religions could sure use a discerning overhaul, but in our lives.

What are the structures and practices of everyday that get in the way of love, that disconnect us and keep us apart, that build on our ignorance rather than engaging the world and learning and growing in love? Perhaps the very things we thought were great for us, aren’t nearly as great as love.