When asked to pick out the greatest commandment of all 613 in the Jewish law, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Deu 6:5) This is the greatest and first commandment.” And as we noted, this was a good call. You could scarcely stir up controversy putting God first. But he doesn’t do as requested (Jesus was never compliant). He goes on, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev 19:18) On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” That second piece opens up all sorts of conversation about who our neighbor might be, how dangerous it might be to love that neighbor, not to mention how much we love ourselves. As Matthew is the gospel most oriented toward Hebrew Scripture, it is not surprising to find there these words from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. And I have always liked the passage for the simple directness it conveys – that is, it all comes down to this folks. It all hangs on these two.
John has Jesus say something different: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ” This, too, opens up hard questions – what truly is your “life,” beyond physical survival. Is it your dreams? Your possessions? What does it mean to lay it all down? And who are our friends? In a way, it’s the same old commandment, to love beyond ourselves, with the same old difficulties – we don’t always find those around us to be so loveable. Both versions of the “love commandment” include something important, though. We need to love and value ourselves. God loves us. Our call is to love as we have been loved. Is it a struggle? Sometimes. Is it complicated? Yes.
May your love always be complicated, and beautiful.
Peace and grace be with you,