Every time I read our scripture lesson for today, it’s every bit as powerful and striking as it was the first time I ever read it!
Do you & I love God with our whole heart? And with all our soul and mind (of course, the other Gospels add the word “strength”)? AND on top of that... do we love our neighbor in the same way? These are the tough questions raised in our Lesson today.
Our love for God can’t be measured simply by being baptized, going to church, praying regularly, or even by professing to be a Follower of Christ. Loving God completely, wholly, is born out of loving God through our love of others.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind... [and] love your neighbor as yourself... all of the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
I think the word that gives us the most trouble in Jesus words for today, is the tiny, three letter word... “All.”
“All” - not some, not a portion, not a little bit, not most of... but all. That tiny little word encompasses everything, everyone, no exceptions... All.
Of course, to make matters worse... Jesus’ words are given to us in the context of a commandment... We call it the Great Commandment... an imperative... Thou shalt... A commandment equates to “orders” - as in military orders... requirements... not a choice.
They’re not called the “10 Suggestions” - are they?
I can’t help but wonder what would it look like (and mean) if we really attempted to live Jesus’ commandments? To love God with all... to love our neighbor with all... What changes would we have to make? How would we live our lives differently?
Of course there are times when others make it very hard to love them! When people “snob” you in the grocery store, or when they deliberately do things to hurt you... when they refuse to forgive and foster a broken relationship despite your efforts to the contrary! It’s happened to all of us...
But truthfully... most of the time... when we love, or show love... it’s a chosen kind of love. We like to pick and choose... and loving people who love us back’s a “no brain-er” - no problem! God’s Word even speaks to this in Luke 6:32, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.”
It’s that little word “all” that keeps getting in the way...
“All” means with every ounce of our being: our hearts, our minds, our souls.
*That whole “heart” thing’s not hard to understand. Jesus even said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” The things or people we love the most... the things we truly treasure are the things we love with our whole heart. That list of things is different for every person... but we know what those things are, for us.
*The “soul” is a little more elusive... a little harder to explain. Because the soul is that area of ourselves that only we and God know. It’s the deepest part of our self... It’s the part of each of us that touches God... we experience God... we know God... and we commune with God through our souls... or spirits... because “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit...”
*Of course, our “mind” is our intellect... our cognitive awareness. Paul speaks of “putting on the mind of Christ.” In other words, it’s how we understand the world around us. We are called to see through “Christ colored classes!” Our world-view... our value system, our understanding... is distinctively Christian. And to “take on the mind of Christ” is to forsake the ways of the world... the ideologies of secular culture, and take on the ways of forgiveness, and mercy, and truth... which is a difficult task, at best!
*BUT then there’s that whole “neighbor” thing! To love our neighbor as ourselves begs the question: “Who is our neighbor?” Our neighbor is anyone beside us... plain and simple. Rich, poor, young, old, black, white, male or female... We are all neighbors to one another.
So what does it mean to love our neighbor as our self?
Well, if you’re looking for a complicated, multi-point answer to that question... you’re about to be very disappointed.
I don’t think Jesus was trying to be cute... or creative... nor was he trying to “wow” us with his understanding of theology and the nature of our relationship with God.
Jesus was simply saying, “If you love God... you’ll show it... by loving others.” All others...
And listen... we all fall short.
Jesus succinctly and sufficiently sums up the WHOLE of the Law and Prophets... with just two commandments.
And their simplicity cloaks the fact that they pack a punch! Jesus’ words are tough and costly. We struggle to comply... no doubt about it!
But maybe... just maybe... that’s the point. Maybe we struggle with Jesus’ words because we can’t love as he calls us to love (at least on our own). That’s one of the beauties of God’s call; it always stretches us, pulls us from wherever we are... to be more. It is like the horizon, always beckoning, never reachable.
The secret is to desire to live out the commandments, no matter how poorly we actually do it. The secret is in the propensity... the longing... the compulsion of our faith.
Do we really strive to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves? Truth be known, many would have to say no. I would say no.
We don't mind loving God or our neighbor, but forget that little word “all.” If we, in our own lives, want to make a choice, a decision, to love God and our neighbor as God commands... what changes would that require of us?
The answer may lie the word “hang.”
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
This little word usually gets overlooked in the Lesson. “Hang” can literally mean the way we put up our clothes in the closet, or it could explain what we do with a light fixture... or the way we arrange framed and matted works of art in our living room! We hang them!
But in our Lesson today, the word “hang” is the same word used to describe what happened to Jesus on the cross... as in Acts 5:30, which speaks of this “Jesus, whom you slew and hanged upon the cross.”
That shifts the entire meaning of the Great Commandment, doesn’t it? To love the Lord your God with all our heart and soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself REQUIRES a crucifixion. It’s a call to die to me, myself, and I. It’s no wonder there are so few volunteers.
To love with that little word “all” costs everything. God calls us to no less. God asks everything. God asks all.
Do we dare even try? Can you believe there is a resurrection in our own life on the other side of that crucifixion to self... that emptying, giving, surrendering love all?