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“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

“to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4: 22-24

Finally, Brothers and Sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.  Philippians 4:8

Jesus Christ was unambiguous in His reply.  This question was being posed by, in the day and time when Jesus walked the earth, a learned man, a man considered wise and perhaps holy; a scribe.  This question came at the height of Jesus’s popularity during His time on earth.  He had come humbly but triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  The crowds had cheered Him and the leadership had jeered Him.  The religious leadership had been peppering Jesus with question after question trying to trick or confuse Him.  Jesus confounded them at every turn. In Matthew it was an evil question meant to hopefully trap Jesus in some faulty answer.  In Mark the scribe asked the question to Jesus after hearing Him clearly outwit a gathering of religious leaders.  Either way, Jesus was and His message for us today is very clear. Which is the greatest commandment?

Now, for a moment, it might add some clarity to understand the scope of the question.  Was the scribe talking about which of the 10 Commandments, given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai?  Was the scribe asking concerning the greatest commandment of the roughly 613 commandments which were passed down, derived through the 10 Commandments? There were a tremendous amount of commandments to choose from.  Which one or two would Jesus choose?

Understand this, neither the question nor the answer were new.  Loving God with all that you have; heart, body, soul and mind was the first commandment that Moses gave to the people in Deuteronomy when the people of Israel thought they were about to cross over into the promised land.  Moses was explaining, how it was that they would be able to stay in the favor of God Almighty if they lived by these precious precepts and did not turn away from them or forget them. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, a man answered a question posed by Jesus by quoting these two same commandments.  The man went on to ask Jesus:  “Who is my neighbor?” , and Jesus proceeded to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan.

They lived in a fractured world back in the time of Jesus’s walk on this earth.  Jew and gentile, Pharisee and Sadducee, freeman and slave, Roman and the rest of the world; were only some of divisions which existed in the land of that time.

Now fast forward some 2020 years later.  Ho Boy, do we have divisions.  As this blog is read around the world, I would mention just some in my country; conservatives and liberals, migrants and native citizens, man and woman, gender specific and gender flexible, and..and…and. We have a lot of division in our country and our world.  So here’s the challenge; not so much that those differences exist, but the way we treat those who believe differently; as wrong, as evil, as hated, that drives differences into divisions, which destroys groups as small as families and as large as nations.

Notice, neither in the Old Testament or with Jesus, Himself, was it declared, you will love those who believe like you do, who look or act like you do or who vote like you do.  Jesus Christ makes it clear, both in His teaching and His living, talking with a Samaritan – a woman no less – or healing a Roman Centurion’s servant, that neighbor has a very broad and universal meeting.  A neighbor can be a person who has lived next to you for 30 years or a stranger standing next to you in a shopping line.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, Jesus makes it clear, love; love toward our neighbor, whomever they might be should be our default position.  There is only one greater commandment; to Love our Heavenly Father. Why? The power of love.  As we love our neighbor, we’re not likely trying to harm them.  Our blood pressure or anger doesn’t go through the roof as we love our neighbor.  A loving neighbor carries no brick, no molatov cocktail, no semi-automatic weapon to use against their neighbor. Love is the Power of God.  Loving like Him allows us to share in that power.

Okay, okay, you say, then I’m going to go out and do it.  Today I’m going to start loving all my neighbors, just you wait.  In some cases it may be tough love, maybe, I’m going to be loving them while I smack some sense into them but I can do this, I’m going to love them.

If we’re going to have a shot at this at all, we have to understand a few things.  First to become this way takes a transformation.  The world and those of the world will never be able to find it within themselves to love thy neighbor as Jesus describes.  As Jesus explained to Nicodemus it takes being born again.  It takes taking off the old self and putting on the new self.  The only way to truly accomplish that is to be in Christ Jesus.

Abiding in Christ, experiencing Christ’s love and His power to change us allows us then, to exemplify Christ in our love for our neighbor. As written in Ephesians, only by putting on the whole armor of God can we combat the evil of this world to see clearly a better, more loving path forward.

Each day we’re likely to come in contact with many neighbors.  Some of those neighbors will be in person, some virtually.  Some will be neighbors we’ve known for decades, some will be strangers who cross our paths. Let us not look to world power; the power of distrusting and hating those neighbors who seem different, wanting for and maybe taking part in their destruction.  Instead let us embrace the Power of God Almighty and His second most important commandment to love that neighbor, even if the love is not returned.  Knowing that the Power of God and His love can never be defeated and by loving in Him we bring praise to His Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we proclaim that You are God and along, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, the only True God.  Thus You are right and just to have commandments.  We thank you Most Merciful Father that Your greatest commandments are to love; first You, then our neighbors as ourselves.  Forgive us when we neglect these commandments or try and narrow our definition of neighbor to exclude those we decide are not worth our love.  Pour out Your Spirit on us that we might resist the worldly definition of love and neighbor to, instead accept Your definition and the power that goes along with that definition.  Allow us to be beacons of Your love to all our neighbors that we might be peacemakers and healers to this world and bring praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

 

Which is the first commandment of all?” Mark 12:28

“Jesus answered him, ‘The first commandment is Hear, O Israel, the Lord Your God is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength.  This is the first commandment. And the second like it is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:29-31

This exchange, the question and the answer is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  In two of the cases, the religious leaders, those who are supposed to be the most knowledgeable ask Jesus to try and trap Him: What is the greatest commandment?  (Matthew and Mark)  In Luke, it is a lawyer, again a learned man of the people, who asks what it takes to inherit eternal life.  What I think is important to point out at this juncture is that those who are asking expect that there is one primary thing; one greatest commandment, one primary way to earn eternal life.  Jesus, as the Christ, the One true Son of God, who was with the Father from the beginning, who knew every word that preceded out of Mouth of the Father was uniquely qualified, and in fact the only One, truly qualified to answer this question.  Thus it is extremely important that we heed His response.

For Jesus Christ makes it clear to, not only the ones who ask the question, He pauses in Mark and calls our for all of Israel to listen and in that same way is calling to You and I to be attentive and listen today.  There is not just one commandment but there are two commandments that we must abide by.  There are two commandments which are the only way to truly have eternal life.  There are two commandments on which all the rest of the laws of and teachings of the prophets are built on.  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Now understand, Jesus taught about considerably more.  Jesus taught about not becoming angry, loving our enemies, not lusting, not worrying, honoring father and mother and much, much more.  Yet all that He taught was based on the two commandments that came from His and, through Him, Our Heavenly Father.  Love God with all your being.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Also realize how consistent this is.  For Jesus is not giving an unheard of commandment here.  Loving the Lord Your God with our entire being is layed out in Deuteronomy 6:4 and loving your neighbor as yourself is stated in Leviticus 19:18

Another of the most classic parables is taught by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke after He gives His answer.  For the lawyer isn’t done testing Jesus.  So the lawyer continues to examine Jesus by asking Him the question: “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus answers with oft quoted story of the Good Samaritan.

Dear Sisters and Brothers; as I write this, there are five families grieving the loss of their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, friends who were police officers slain in a mass shooting.  In the days leading up to this we’ve witnessed the tragic deaths of civilians slain in interactions with police.  That is sadly only one manifestation of the opposite of love; hate, which is racking our neighborhoods, our country, our world.  Out of hate, people are walking into schools, nightclubs and yes, even churches and carrying our merciless killings.  Out of hate people are strapping explosives to themselves or driving vehicles packed with explosives and detonating themselves, killing scores in some twisted philosophy of service, which is truly only a service to evil.

If that was not tragic enough, much more often now, the response to these spasms of mayhem and hate is to build rage and hate in response, believing that acts of hate in response are justified in a sense of eye for an eye.  Our Heavenly Father, in the Old Testament declaring that vengeance was His and His alone,  as well as Jesus Christ’s teachings about how we should treat and love our enemies is diametrically opposed to those who feel that hate and rage in return for hate and rage is justified and worst yet, somehow righteous behavior.

Finally, Dear Sisters and Brothers, we will not be able to, can not achieve the level of love, spoken of by Jesus on our own.  We must understand that we can only love in that manner if we first call out to and accept the love that comes from Our Heavenly Father, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t build or come upon this love ourselves but are vessels to hold, return to God and spread to others,  the love that comes from Above.

So let us pray, constantly, deeply to first receive that love and then to spread that love.  Let not the shrill voices of hate, vengeance and retribution, distract or dissuade us from seeking and showing love.  Let us call upon the promise of Jesus Christ, that as we abide in Him, we can do greater things; that is to say, we can show greater love, we can be greater examples of selfless and merciful love even than He did during His time here.  Let us not grow weary of saying “I love you”, especially to those who seem to be the least willing to hear it or least likely to accept it.  That in being beacons of His Love, we will bring ever present praise and glory to His Most Holy Name.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we freely admit we are dismayed and confounded by the level of hate and the extreme amount of damage that hate is causing in this world.  We first call upon Your Love to be poured out on this world and especially upon us who seek Your most Holy Name.  Pour out Your Strength, allowing us to fulfill Your commandment to love You first and then love our neighbors as ourselves.  Help us to see and define “our neighbor” as You define for us truly who and where our neighbor is.  Finally, use us to be bold in showing love and allowing that love to be triumphant over any and all hate that comes against it.  That the world would see You as the God of Triumphant Love that You Are and sing forth praises to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Matthew 22:36

“And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”  Matthew 22:39

There are many, many blessings and benefits to being married to a teacher (yes, there also times of grammatical and other corrections with eye rolls as well).  One of which being a gaining of understanding of nuances of things like language that can lead to deeper, richer understanding.  Take the word “as” for instance.  It is a conjunction.  For those who might remember an American, cartoon called “School House Rock” and the song “Conjunction Junction What’s Your Function?” (If you have a moment to Youtube it, it is a fun watch…anyway I digress), a conjunction exists to connect or combine two things together.

Jesus, is being tested; not in the sense of a an academic test or the sense of an achievement test, no this test is much more significant, the stakes of the grade are much more dire.  The Jewish Authorities are testing him.  They are sending different representatives to ask Him questions.  These are questions designed to trip Him up.  He has claimed to be the Messiah, God’s True and Only Son.  Yet Jesus has no formal training; He is a carpenter’s son.  In the minds of the Jewish Leadership, Jesus has been able to trick the uninformed, unintelligent masses, but He has not fooled the leadership.  And they are going to trap Jesus in His own words and show to the people the fraud that Jesus is.  There is only one problem with their plan.  Jesus keeps answering every question posed to Him with such great wisdom and then in turn asks the Jewish leaders questions they can not answer; that they are quickly being shown to be the ignorant fools that they in fact truly are.  So almost in exasperation; they turn to a final question with which they hope to trap Jesus; to have an answer which will lead to His downfall and doom.  But again, Jesus answers with such wisdom, such truth, such power, that the Jewish Leadership is forced to remain quiet and indeed, will never try to confront him openly in argument again.

The question?  Which is the great commandment?  Unwittingly, in their minds, and by the Grace of God the Father Almighty, they had opened the door to some of the most powerful teaching, the most clarifying concepts of Jesus entire ministry:  What does God think is the most important.  Jesus doesn’t just answer them.  In the Gospel of Mark, before answering he shouts out:  “Hear O Israel!” for Jesus isn’t just answering for the gathered leadership, He is answering for all of us; for all time.  The first of His answers is about our relationship to God. It is to be one of love with all that we have; heart, mind, body and soul.  But it is the second one and knowing that Jesus always chose His words with carefulness and clarity that he uses the conjunction as.  After our relationship with God, what is the next most important thing in our lives; is it the temple?, the priests?, our sacrifices?, the amount of money we give?; No, it is none of that.  It is our fellow human beings.  It is that which God, Himself, made in His own image and breathed His own breath into; His creation that He saw was very good.  It is those; whom we are to love AS we love ourselves.  Jesus goes on to say; everything else; all additional laws, commandments and teachings that have ever come are built on these two fundamental commandments.

So what’s the point for us that I think is so vital today?  AS.  For you see as, in the conjunctive form is a state of being.  It is a state of combination, of existence together; that is neighbor and you and I.  Please, Sisters and Brothers, take particular note of where and how the as is placed; neighbor as yourself.  Note this is not an eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth type of commandment.  This is not love your neighbor as they love you in return.  There is no freedom here to not love our neighbor if we don’t feel that their is love returned in kind to us.  No, the only way we can not love our neighbor is to not love ourselves in the first place.  And also please note this; if we find that we have no love for ourselves, then the first commandment of loving God will be next to impossible, for we are hating the very thing which He, in His wisdom, created.  And that is of course why Jesus Christ placed the two commandments in that very order.  For there can be no actual love of any kind lest it first come in a relationship from Above.  Then and only then, can the first Love, between God the Father Almighty and you and I, then be shared with all who are around us.  And finally note this, it is completely irrelevant, whether the love is returned from our neighbor or not.  Loving ourselves, we are commanded to love others.

In summation; of course God knows what He is doing and Jesus Christ knows exactly what He is saying.  We should not look at these commandments as harsh in nature or drudgingly laborious in carrying out.  For love is the greatest of all things.  Love opens up all things.  Love conquers all things.  Loving is the essence to life.  Love is the way to be.  Striving for anything else is striving for less.  Simple? yes. Easy? hardly.  In fact it is so hard that none of us will ever perfectly achieve it in this life time.  But that does not excuse us from trying.  And as we attempt and when we fail, we reach to up to Him in prayer who came down; who knows our weaknesses and in His Perfect Love and Mercy, died for our sins and failures; Jesus Christ.  And in Love, Perfect Love, Jesus Christ will lift us up, continue to Love Us and show us the way to love all others as ourselves.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we praise and thank You that You have seen fit to teach us, to tell us what You desire from us most.  We also humbly admit that what You want most from us; love, first to you and then to our neighbors, we often fail to give.  Forgive us Merciful Father and Pour Out the Holy Spirit upon us that He may teach us each day how to better love you as well as our neighbors.  That in that love, we will live lives of praise to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 

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