Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Great Commandment: Extraordinary Love and Devotion Required

The Great Commandment is one of the most well known and most misused of all the sayings of Jesus. In Matthew and in Mark, Jesus is approached with a simple question, to which he gives a rather simple answer:

“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus 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 first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

He references here two verses in the Hebrew Bible, one from Deuteronomy (6:5) and another in Leviticus (19:18.)

For modern Christians and non-Christians alike, these are, strangely, extremely difficult sayings to grasp, and both groups tend to minimize and over-simplify the commands for their own purposes. Humans love to oversimplify things. And while Jesus’ summary of the Law and the Prophets did simplify the message God sends to His people, it doesn't negate the need for religion, as non-Christians assert. Nor does it end the necessity for Good Works nor nullify any of God’s Moral Law, as Christians often assert.

The nature of the Great Commandment is to reiterate the basics of the faith the Jews had inherited from their Fathers. It wasn't about the hundreds of man-made rules and regulations they had created over the centuries. Jesus condemned those and said they separated men from God.

But while some would like to believe Jesus said, “Just acknowledge God’s existence and be nice to one another,” the Great Commandment asks for more than that.

The Great Commandment is a challenge – and a rather radical one. Namely, that God should be the absolute center of our lives. God must be loved with ALL our hearts and ALL our soul and ALL our mind. One hundred percent is required, no less.

That's a clear call for us to believe in a God Who believes in us - and Who believes we can obey His commands. And while some Christians would hope these commandments are a call to abandon Good Works and simply throw adoration at God and 'like' our neighbors, that's not at all what Jesus preached. This message is one of loving one’s neighbor JUST AS we love ourselves, and that is further developed in his command that we pray for even our enemies. That’s the level of devotion God requires, according to His Prophet and our Master, Jesus.

These commands require the effort of our entire being to accomplish. Clearly, “just be nice to one another” is not a complete message of the Gospel and nor is giving a weak acknowledgement to God every seven days.

In short, Jesus didn't say "Love is all you need." That was the Beatles. Like faith without works, which is dead, love that’s not followed by devotion and actions is also dead.

Jesus wasn't sent by God to tell us to meditate on the wonder of God, or to develop our inner selves, or give ecstatic praise to God without any Good Works and service to accompany this praise. No, he taught that we must channel our sense of the transcendent wonder of God in Heaven into immanent Good Works here on Earth, and that just adoration or mere assent to the existence of a God is not enough.

To be One with God, we have the example of God’s Chosen Son, Jesus, who not only adored and loved God, but did so with every ounce of his being. And he calls on us to do exactly the same.

To be One with Jesus, we must be One with our neighbors. And to do this, we are called to serve them and love them just as completely as we love ourselves.

And let no one say that we cannot do this, that we’re too weak, not equipped enough by God to accomplish all that His Prophet Jesus commanded us to do.

Jesus and his (and our) God believe we are fully capable of doing all that is required of us, relying on the example Jesus set, aided by God's continuing Grace and Love.

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