It always amazes me how we complicate things. I guess we human beings need some structure and order in our lives. But I can’t help but think that we too often take simple, basic ideas and complicate them. And the process is nothing new. You see, the religious leaders of Jesus’ time had done the same thing. The Torah had 248 positive commandments and 365 prohibitions: 613 religious laws that everyone had to keep. So, in theological circles, the learned teachers were constantly debating; of all of these 613, which law is MOST important?
You see, Jesus was a threat to the established religious power of the Pharisees and religious leaders. He was talking about living a life based upon love. What Jesus did was to define the core of religion. He never said the other laws were unimportant. He never said to disregard them, but he did say, that what is important, is LOVE. Love God, love each other, love yourself. Period. And then we complicate it.
Jesus’ combination of these two commandments is really the central meaning of life. And Jesus was clear that you cannot separate love of God and love of neighbor.
A one-sided, vertical relationship, “just me and God” can easily dissolve into illusion and escapism from the real challenges of love. A one-sided horizontal relationship, just loving others, loses sight of the ultimate source of Love. None of us can truly love others, without the power of the Spirit in our lives. And then there’s one more aspect that we sometimes ignore. The law says: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus is teaching that we must love ourselves as well. In fact, he is simply assuming it as a condition for loving others. Our worth and value comes from accepting God’s unconditional love for all his children, every one of us.
If we really ponder the power of these two laws, we are brought into the center of God’s being. To be truly religious is to love God and to love others whom God has made in God’s image. And this is not only a sentimental feeling, but a total commitment which begins with devotion to God, and continues with loving service to each other.
To think about: Today, how will I allow my faith to be expressed in loving service? How will I gently share with others, the Love God has shared with me?
Written by: Rev. Richard W. Bauer, MM, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Nairobi, Kenya