Question! “Which commandment is most important?”
If a religious leader were to approach you today and ask you this question, what would your answer be? Which commandment in the Judeo-Christian worldview is the most important? Which one captures the essence of what is truly important?
I think a lot of people today would say to be nice to people, because everyone has problems and we shouldn’t add to them. We live in the Be Nice culture, but it is only supposed to apply to everyone else. If we are nice to everyone, all the world’s problems would go away.
It lines up pretty nicely with The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But there are still detractors who insist that that’s too old school. We should treat people the way they want to be treated. But The Golden Rule the epitome of the Judeo-Christian worldview?
Or maybe some would say “do whatever you want, but don’t hurt anybody.” They would say that there are too many busybodies in the world worrying about what other people are doing when in the end, come on, they’re not really hurting anyone. Maybe we’re supposed to float around without bumping into anyone else, fearful that the slightest misconstrued gesture might offend.
When Jesus was asked that question, “Which commandment is the most important” he gave a straight answer. Maybe the questioner was referring to the Mitzvot…the 613 commandments explicitly listed in the Old Testament. Maybe he was referring to the Ten Commandments given to the Israelites through Moses. But Jesus was precise. You can count them on one hand and still have a couple of unoccupied fingers.
Love God with every fiber of your being, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
There were no references to going along to get along or disinterested or dispassionate friendship, trending toward the opinion of the great Humanist who enamored of the concept of humanity but hated people.
It is just love. The love due to God alone must be immediate and enlivening, like the sap to the tree. Every. Fiber. Of your being.
But then what about the human part of it. How many of us see ourselves in that enlightened way Jesus spoke of? Love your neighbor (and we know who our neighbor is) as much as you love yourself. Ah, the great leveling. Weighing my needs against… His needs. And her needs. Seeing injustice and acting. Seeing lack and abundance and striving to be a leveler. No head raised higher than the other in dignity. Seeing the divine spark in even the most hate crusted soul.
But then, this snapshot of a conversation in which Jesus bent toward the Scribe and said, “you’re not far from the kingdom of God.” There was an emendation after the Resurrection, after Jesus was tortured to death one one of the most heinous devices ever built by men. After he lay in the tomb, stone cold, until the day after Sabbath. Until he arose victorious over death.
“Do you guys remember when I told you to love your neighbor as yourself?” he asked the disciples.
“Yeah, we wrote that one down, Lord. Right after Love God…”
“No, what I mean is… I want to caveat that ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself’ thingy. That was before I showed you how to love, before I did for you what you couldn’t do for yourselves,” Jesus continued.
“Give me the notepad, John. Okay…scratching out “as much as you love yourself,” Peter sighed.
Jesus looked around at all of them and said, “Love them… as much as I have loved you.”
A tear dropped from Peter’s cheek and onto the notebook. He wiped it away and began to scribble.
“So number two refers directly back to number one?” he asked.
“Yes. You can never out-love me, but go ahead and try! If you love me with every fiber of your being, I’ll fill you up like a pitcher with the same love with which I love the Father. And that is the love with which I want you to love others. Not your own natural love (though I can work with that, too), but with the love that I have for you, which has been tested in the crucible of death and resurrection, refined by fire, and which a short time from now I will pour out on you in the most inspiring way.”
God, if we would only love like that.