When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22: 34-39)
Do you have a governing principle? Is there some core value that you subscribe to in your life, one that you perhaps were taught, or that was modeled for you as you were formed into human being? They are there. For many, we can live for decades without having to confront a situation that challenges that core value or principle. For some, those elements of the core lie in the middle depths. From time to time a situation will arise that causes us to dip into those closely held values and then to act...or react...to the people or events that challenge them. For a few, those values lie close at hand. They wake in the morning and they are right there. Every moment serves as a challenge as those values are pulled and pushed, strained and tested. For those, action is inevitable They find themselves contending with the world about them, seeking to bring those values they possess into a primacy that not only enters the warp and weft of reality...they begin to influence and even perhaps determine it.
Stated neutrally? Yes...
For when values are expressed that seek to corrupt, control and destroy rise in prominence on a global scale, then we face the horrors of pandemic conflict, holocaust, genocide. On a local scale when corrupt, we face a slide away from the rule of law into the dominance of oppression, the abstraction (or obliteration) of human rights and the installation of practices of discrimination that isolate, separate and denigrate classes, races and social groups, one from another. When those principles are corrupted on a personal level, we see abuse, addiction and interpersonal destruction. Corrupt core values take the greatest element of our human being, the will to interact with and act upon our environment, and distort it into something sinful, something apart from God's will and love for a creation that yearns for hope, life, grace and redemption.
For when values are expressed that seek to heal, to reconcile and to seek God's justice, then grace gets a chance to abound in us and through us in the world around us. Values that foster from the core of a person a sense of connection to the others around them in such a way that "they/them/other" is as precious and beloved as "me/I/us" actually foster a society wherein if something happens to constrain or limit one, then all feel pain. It is the kingdom of God coming into the world.
This Gospel passage dances on the razor's edge, balancing between the base motivations of those who would cut Jesus off from being a trusted teacher and speaker, and an acceptance that he really does speak with authority to the grace and glory of God's love for the world.
Which law is the greatest?
Which value is most important? Can you answer that question? What is YOUR interpretation, your admission of a greatest value, a greatest governing principle, THE greatest law?
It is a tough one to answer. I have been pastor to many who have taken it on, and I have grappled with it myself. The textual answer is easy: Jesus replies that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole being...and then he follows that with the second, a summation of Torah, that in loving God with our whole being we also commit by extension to love our neighbor as we do our own self.
Now, practice that summary. Practice it with each breath, with each action, with each choice. See God ALL the time in the world around you. See God ALL the time in your neighbor....NOT EASY.
Actually...almost impossible. And yet, if we are honest with ourselves and each other, then we must admit that Jesus made it clear, if not difficult, to express our core values as those who seek to honor our common citizenship in God's Kingdom. We are called upon to love God with our whole being, and when distracted repent and return. We are called to love the other as the self, and when we fall into patterns of addiction, injustice and conflict to repent, seek reconciliation and a return to relationship, seeking justice and healing both for and from our neighbor.
There are over 600 laws in Torah. Many of us seek to model the first ten as primary and live as well as we can according to those values expressed. But then, Jesus comes along and when challenged to pick JUST ONE as the greatest he chooses instead to draw down on two simple, core values that really wind up summarizing ALL of the work we are formed, called and exhorted to in all of Holy Scripture...Just two simple steps that can change the world (and have been changing it for millennia)...
Love God. Love neighbor. Everything right and good and true and just will then flow from that blended practice. God give us the strength to do just that.......