In the name of Christ, who teaches us how to love. Amen.
One of the things that can be both fascinating, but also sometimes a little bit maddening about Jesus is the way he can twist a question to give the answer he wants to give. Or, like unto that, the way his answers to questions are sometimes so obtuse that even those first apostles were often left scratching their heads. If there’s any one overarching personality trait about Jesus that transcends the various Gospel accounts, it’s that: the surprising ways that he answers (and sometimes refuses to answer) questions.
It can be fun watching him thwart those who mean to oppose him. But for us - people who simply want to learn and to grow and to follow Christ - his answers can sometimes be a little bit frustrating. Sometimes, we just need a clear, concise answer. Sometimes we don’t want to have to work so hard. But that’s not usually Jesus’ way. Usually, we have to work for it.
Today, however, we hear one of those rare occasions when - even though the Pharisee was trying to test him - Jesus answered plainly and directly. There could be no mistaking or misunderstanding.
“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Maybe it was meant to trip him up. Maybe they were thinking that if they put him on the spot, he might say something that they could use to incriminate him.
Instead, he spoke about as directly as he ever could have. He answered clearly, and concisely - in one of those phrases that we should all have etched on our hearts and in our minds to guide us through everything that we do.
“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”
It couldn’t be any clearer. This is what we’re about. Despite all the ways that people have talked about the faith, and written about it, and done theology, and fought and died and conquered - this is what it all comes down to.
Or at least, what it should all come down to.
Unfortunately, too often it doesn’t. Too often we add limitations and questions and fears and anxiety. But the real crux of it all is really pretty simple. It’s about being in relationship. It’s about loving God and loving each other.
It seems like Christianity should be the easiest thing in the world to master – just two simple rules form the foundation for everything. But too often we fall short.
More and more, among my friends on social media, I find them enthusiastically proclaiming their lack of faith. Throughout this country, the fastest-growing religious group is the “nones” – those people who claim no religious affiliation. Sometimes they describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” or sometimes they just say they’re atheist or agnostic. My own online sphere bears out this trend. I see it over and over again.
As reluctant as we are to talk about our faith among our friends – as unwilling as we are to be evangelists for our faith – the “nones” are evangelizing. And their ranks are growing.
Now, to be clear, I don’t say this as a threat. This isn’t about some anti-Christian boogie man coming to get you in the night. But we would be foolish not to notice this trend and see it as the mirror of ourselves that it often is. Why is it that the people who are most effective at talking about their religion and recruiting people to join them are those who claim no religion at all?
When I have occasions to really sit down with individuals and get to the bottom of it, the answer is almost always the same: it’s some version of an indictment of the church’s hypocrisy. The church says it’s about love but it feels like they only care about money. The church says it’s about love, but they exclude people. The church says it’s about love, but they hurt me.
How might we appear differently to the world if we really did guide ourselves by this clear directive from Jesus? “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two hang all the law and the prophets.”
One of the most significant things Jesus says in his summary of the law is that little connector between the two commandments. He says, “A second is like it”.
It’s not just that we are called to love God and to love each other - as separate tasks. Jesus is saying that it’s almost the same thing – that they naturally go together. Part of how we love God is by loving each other. The best way to show your love for God is to love the people God has created and also loves.
Encounter others' needs as if they were our own. Embrace others’ successes as if they were our own. Embody God’s love by loving God’s creation.
Sometimes the answers really are simple. Love God. Love each other. That’s the basis of all that we’re called to do. When we stray from this, we stray from God. And it’s no wonder that people notice. We can’t be all things to all people. But we can be love to all people. We must be. That’s our main job. On this hang all the law and the prophets. Amen.