Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
(Matthew 22: 34-40)
Lately, I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed. The events of the world are wearying. On top of that trying to plan anything has been stressful. The past 18 months of making plans, backup plans, and then another 2 or 3 backup plans has worn on me. Sometimes I wonder if we are ever going to move forward as a society and humans when it feels like everything – even the stuff that should be simple – is politicized and cause for division. And then I worry more. And I get even more overwhelmed. You, too?
When I notice the anxiety bubbling up, I pause. Pray. God, remind me what is important.
“Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Just like I’ve been spending too much time worrying, paying attention to news and so-called experts in every field, the people of this time spent a lot of time listening to and debating with religious experts. Those experts spent lots of time worrying about the best way to honor the law. They were always arguing about which was the better way to do things, which laws were important, which laws and traditions honored God, and how/when/if people would get to heaven. Does any of this feel familiar to you?
The first time you read the passage, you could think that Jesus is answering the Pharisee’s trick question with a trick answer. But, after I’ve read this time and time again, I don’t think that’s the case. Instead, Jesus was using what this Pharisee already knew – and then building on it. “And the second is like it.” In seven words, Jesus flips the law around. Jesus says they have been focusing on the wrong stuff. They are arguing and worrying about things that don’t matter nearly as much as they thought. When Jesus said “and the second is like it,” he’s not saying here’s one rule, and now I’m giving you another – instead, Jesus is saying “Here is the rule – Love God. And here’s how to do it.” If we don’t know how to love God, we can start by loving our neighbor. And if we think we love God, but aren’t loving our neighbor, do we really love God after all?
We need to remember, too, that relationships aren’t one way. We need to give AND receive love. Sometimes we forget that we should love our neighbor – but more often we forget that we need to be open to accepting the love of our neighbor. For me, that’s often the hard part. I always want to be the helper, but never want to burden anyone with needing their help. This is a hard lesson for me to learn, and I have to learn it over and over again.
Several years ago, after an incredibly busy and wearying morning with two naughty toddlers I ventured out to the grocery store. It is one of my least favorite tasks, and my son – the ever curious, animated toddler that he was – had asked what felt like at least 3,285 questions between the parking lot and the front door. As we navigated the produce section, my children caught the eye of an elderly gentleman. He had been watching us and couldn’t help but overhear James and his eager desire to know everything about everything. With a twinkle in his eye, he asked if he could buy my kids some small balloons. I was in a hurry, and just wanted to get my chores over with, so I brusquely refused, explaining that my children had been naughty most of the morning and I didn’t want to reward their behavior.
As soon as I turned his kind gesture down, I knew I had been wrong. He walked away, the skip in his step was missing, and the twinkle in his eyes had faded. He felt defeated. In one short, terse statement, I had denied him the opportunity to share God’s love with his neighbor.
If you know me, you’ve probably heard me tell this story before. That’s because I think about it quite often, especially when I’m having trouble accepting help and love from others. Or when I see the world seemingly falling apart around us and wonder if there is still good out there. I know it is. I just get mixed up in my own worries so deeply that I forget to open my eyes to see what is important. Love God. Love others. And my own addition – let others love me. And then maybe the world won’t seem so overwhelming.
Amid the insanity around us, open our eyes to the good in our world. Help us to remember how to love you- by being ambassadors of your love to our neighbors near and far. Open our hearts so that we can accept your gift of love from others. Forgive us and surround us with your grace and peace when we get wrapped up in worries and can’t see the good in others, ourselves and you.