“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind . . . You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39 (NRSV)
Jesus knew the Torah and the laws that were in the Torah, so when a lawyer tried to trap him by asking which was the greatest commandment, he quoted from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The quotation wasn’t to show the man how much he knew but to teach him that God was more important than anything else.
I think the Jewish mindset was really quite “on.” God wasn’t separated from life but an integral part of life. People during Jesus’ day and throughout the Bible don’t spend their time questioning whether God exists. They believed it as part of their very being. In more recent times, and perhaps following the enlightenment, we have enlightened God into a separate compartment, almost as if we could just to there whenever we “need” God.
A greater understanding of God’s love for us leads us to understand our relationship with God as one of love, not necessarily the strong emotional passionate love that we might feel for a spouse, significant other, child, parent or close friend. This is a love that connects us to God and requires a commitment from us to live in God’s ways. The natural outgrowth of that become loving ourselves as God does, and loving our neighbor.
This kind of love becomes kindness, compassion, caring, helping, respecting, and honoring the other person even if we aren’t particularly fond of that person. Recently, a parishioner came to see me to share a story about a relative toward whom he had had years of anger. He did everything he could to avoid that person who had been such an offense in his family. But he decided to try to make things right to the best of his ability.
The relative listened to the man’s reasons for his anger and understood what he was saying. Yet, the relative had a hard time letting go of the assumptions and errant notions that had caused the problem to begin with. After the meeting, the man who had tried to find some resolve decided that he had tried, and that he had been able to forgive even if the relative wasn’t able to let go of the issues.
When we are hurt by someone, we often want to hold grudges and avoid that person. Yet, Jesus told the lawyer and all who were around him that loving God was the MOST important thing we are asked to do, and the second most important thing is to love our neighbor – our relative – our enemy – even those who hurt us. It doesn’t mean that we have to accept abuse or allow ourselves to be walked all over, but it does mean that we treat the other person with respect and give them the value that God has for them, even as God cares about and values us.
No one said this faith journey would be easy. Clearly it is not. Yet, loving God and neighbor is what we are called to do. And, of course, this IS a journey – a life-time journey. May we all continue on that journey as we seek to be faithful.