Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Imitate Jesus: Getting Love Right

           There are two stories in the life of Jesus concerning what is now commonly called the greatest commandment. One occurred in the final week of Jesus’ life as he was being questioned by the religious leaders in an attempt to trap him in his words. He was asked point blank what the most important commandment was and he answered: “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:29-31) The religious leader agreed with Jesus’ answer, but then Jesus surprised him by exclaiming: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” This must have been offensive, because this man certainly believed he was solidly inside the kingdom of God! And yet Jesus said he was close to the kingdom but not quite there yet. That raises, at least for me, an important question: If he understood the primacy of love, then why was he only close to the kingdom?

The other time Jesus was questioned about the greatest command, an expert in the law asked Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus, in typical rabbinic fashion, answered his question with a question, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”  Jesus wanted this man to recognize that he already knew the answer! The man answered just as Jesus had in the previous story. Jesus praised him for his right answer and encouraged him to put that answer into practice: “Do this and you will live!”

            The expert in the law, in typical expert fashion, wanted to justify his actual practice (or the lack thereof), so he sought to fine tune the answer – “And who is my neighbor?” In response Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. The interesting thing in this story is the Jesus used it to answer a different question than the expert in the law actually asked. His question was, “And who is my neighbor?” The question that Jesus answers is “To whom am I a neighbor?”

            The expert in the law was looking for a loophole to spare him the difficult task of actually living out the implications of the truth concerning the greatest command to love God and love people. He wanted to know the right answer, but to be free from having to practice the right answer.

            Christianity has struggled with this desire over the years and even developed ways to enable us to defend ourselves against the tension. We often, as Christians, focus a lot of attention on what we call orthodoxy – or right belief, but Jesus calls us to more! He is glad we know the right answers, but challenges us to understand that they are not actually right if we fail to live them!  Orthopraxy – right practice – is what Jesus is calling us to!   

            “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Jesus asked. The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise!”

If we do not practice the commandment to love God with all we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves, it is pointing to the fact that we do not really believe it after all. If we practice it, we cannot help but believe it!

                                                - Kenny Payne

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