One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other;’ and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
What rules do you follow? I don’t mean the rules set by your city, state, or national government, but rather the rules you set for yourself. Sometimes we’re not even aware of them. We may have rules about how much we want to save, about how much time we want to spend with family or friends, or about when we can surf the internet. But we almost always do have some rules – formal or informal, conscious or unconscious – that we follow. What are some of yours?
I ask this because I think the rules we follow reveal what’s important to us. And I think that’s what’s going on here. Jesus is revealing a lot about himself – and the God whose kingdom he proclaims – by answering this question about commandments.
“Give how many commandments there are – more than 600!” the scribe asks, “which do you think is most important?” And Jesus doesn’t give just one, but two. First, love God. And second, love each other. Except that from the way Jesus links them together I think he means that these two laws can’t really be separated, that they can’t really be understood apart from each other. You can’t love God, in other words, apart from loving each other.
Now why would Jesus do that? Or, perhaps more to the point, why would God do that? Insist that the only way to love God is to love each other?
The answer, I think, isn’t really that difficult. Any parent knows that the thing you hope most for your children is that they love each other. Jesus introduces us to a God whose love in abundant and wide and everlasting and – perhaps more than anything else – parental.
As a wise friend once said to me, a parent is only as happy as her or his least happy child. So also with God. And so God says that the best way to love God is to love each other. The best way to honor God is to honor each other. And the best way to be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with each other. Why? Because God loves us with the love of a parent, wanting only and always the very best for all of God’s children. When we realize this we are, indeed, not far from the kingdom of God.
Prayer: Dear God, help us to see in the people all around us your beloved children, our beloved brothers and sisters. And let us love them as you have loved us and in this way return your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.