Monday, October 20, 2014

The Main Thing

Mat 22:34-40:
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,they gathered together, and one of them,a scholar of the law tested him by asking,"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
He said to him,"You shall love the Lord, your God,with all your heart,with all your soul,and with all your mind.This is the greatest and the first commandment.The second is like it:You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
There is an old saying that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. There is a lot of wisdom to that. People start to get lost in details and lose track of what really matters. For Christians what really matters is love. The Pharisees were big on commandments. They took great pride in how well they observed them. So when they asked Jesus this question they expected to get an answer that made them look pretty good. Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes. Could he possible answer with any law they did not keep better than those people?

There is an interesting spiritual physics in this reply. Jesus starts with the notion that God should get everything we have. All of our hopes and dreams, all of our opinions, all of our possessions, all of our emotional and physical energy, everything goes to God alone. Unconditional love. Nothing is held back. 

It begs the question about the second commandment. If God gets everything then how can we be talking about loving our neighbor or loving our self? You just gave everything to God. You have nothing left. What gives?

Loving God does not imply hating everything else. Loving God implies loving the things God loves and hating the things God hates. So we love ourselves but only in that way. That is we only see ourselves as good because God created us and God loves us. We don't love ourselves in an egotistical way at all. That is why our love for ourselves is the same as our love for our neighbor. Our neighbor is created by God and loved by God just as much as we are. So we love them not only just as much as we love ourselves but for the same reason. It is all part of our love for God. 

Modern Christians tend to see love of God and love of neighbor as competing. You get the so-called progressive Christians who have liturgies that really focus on community and celebrating our dignity as children of God. They try and love their neighbor by focusing less on loving God. The result is sentimentalism. They get a lot of things right but when God's word does not line up with what feels right for their neighbor or even themselves then they have trouble. They end up creating an image of God that matches their feelings. The trouble is that image does not match scripture or tradition or the magisterium. It does not match their personal experience either. Their theology becomes a mess.

The conservatives can have problems to. They can fall into the same trap as the Pharisees. Get the doctrine right. Get the commandments right. Live them as best you can. Yet that is all. Don't give your heart. You can believe that God loves the poor but still not love them yourself. You can even believe God loves you and not love yourself. 

Then Jesus says the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. What He means is the whole Old Testament. The law refers to the first 5 books. The law and the prophets refers to the whole thing. The point is that all of the Christian religious life has to be lived out of love for God or it is going to lose its value. If we learn about God, if we sacrifice, if we make moral choices, if we worship, if we serve the poor, whatever we do if we do it without that agape love for God we fail. St Paul's beautiful writing from 1 Cor 13 comes to mind.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

No comments:

Post a Comment