There are some things that never seem to sink in for me.
For example, some of the proverbs from the Old Testament’s wisdom literature always surprise me:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding.”
I could be told that hourly, and my response would be “Oh that’s right–I completely forgot.”
The same is true–I have to confess–with the so-called “two greatest commandments.” Jesus was asked what he regarded as the “greatest”–that is, the weightiest or most important–commandment. His answer?
He recited a command from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, what is called Shema (the “She-” is pronounced like the “shu” in “shut”, and the “-ma” sounds like the shorted form of mama: ma. Hence: Shu-MAW).
“Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Why is it called the Shema? Because the first word (“Hear!”) in Hebrew is shema. It doesn’t merely mean, ‘Hear’ but ‘Take heed.’ There is Israel’s God Yahweh (“our God”), and there is no other: He is the One and Only. They need to take heed of no other. He should have no competitors for their allegiance: they can–and must–give him all that they are–“heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
These human characteristics (“heart, soul,…”), while somewhat distinctive, aren’t mutually exclusive human faculties. Rather, they are listed as a way of underscoring the totality of our humanity: because there is only God, we can set all our affections and allegiance upon him alone.
And that, says Jesus, is the weightiest commandment: to offer to Israel’s God the exclusive affection and allegiance–i.e., the love–that He alone deserves.
But Jesus then provides–free of charge–his opinion on the second weightiest commandment. This time he quotes from Leviticus 19: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (For the question of who one’s neighbor is, see Luke 10.25-37.)
So, according to Jesus, what is life really about? Love of God and neighbor.
To love another is to treat him or her according to their proper value. To value someone/thing is to have an affection for it. If the other’s value remains the same (as is the case with both God and humans, who are made in his image), love continually values: that’s called commitment, or allegiance.
So what does it mean to love God? It means to treat him according to His infinite value as the unchanging and eternal Source of all life and reality, as pure Goodness and Generosity, unshakable Commitment, unfathomable Grace, infinite Slyness, ultimate Expertise, unadulterated Justice, mind-bending Power, utter Freedom–without any temporal or spatial constraint, true and full Personhood and Community–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And to love our neighbor? It means to treat any and all persons–i.e., irrespective of age, race, gender, appearance, personality, education, capacity, etc.–within our God-appointed physical and vocational context according to the value which God has assigned to them. This value is usually recognizable by how we ourselves would want to be treated: love your neighbor as yourself. (Notice here the basis for human value: God assigns it to us. But if there is no God, then who determines human value? Governments? Polls? Guns?)
A few observations:
These “weightiest” commandments do not require one to be a specific age, intelligence, marital status, gender, race, ethnicity or nationality, socio-economic status, vocation, physical capacity or body type, legal status, etc. The weightiest commandments–the things that Jesus says are most important to God–are something that pretty much everyone can do. In short, these commandments are incredibly inclusive.
But not only can everyone do them, they can be done to (i) anyone (ii) anywhere (iii) at any time.
Not even one’s enemies can stop a person from loving them. That is, no one can prevent us from succeeding at what Jesus said is most important in life. This is empowering, especially to the oppressed. Further, wherever we are–whatever our circumstance or station in life, we can fulfill these commandments. And throughout our entire lives–day or night, at work, over meals, together or by ourselves–we can pursue what life is truly about.
Finally, there is no shortage of people in need of love. There is way too much loneliness, brokenness, addiction, conflict, bereavement and grief, poverty, guilt, shame, regret, despair, feelings of worthlessness, injustice and oppression, deception, greed, etc., etc. for us not to love. So many feel unlovable, undesirable, tainted–damaged goods.
Of course, Jesus does not merely tell us to love God and neighbor. He does it. He goes down loving–all the way down. And John calls us to worship this Jesus, the Lamb slaughtered for us and sovereign for all time:
“To him who loves us and has freed from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power for ever and ever.”
There is nothing more beautiful to behold, more costly to accomplish, more satisfying to seek after than love. Lose–and find–your life loving God and loving your neighbor. This is what it means to be human.
And so I remind myself daily, sometimes hourly: fool, life is about love.