The Great Commandment

July 12, 2016 / By: Susan Stabile

A few thoughts about the two related aspects of Jesus teaching of what we call the Great Commandment. (Mark 12:28-34)

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 

Jesus does not elaborate  on what it means to love God; he gives no concrete instruction.   But given Jesus’ citation of the Torah, it is clear Jesus understood this teaching as the Jews of his day did: God comes first; we are to love God above everything else.

Loving God means putting God first.  If we call ourselves Christians – and mean something by that – then our lives are oriented by God’s love made manifest in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And that orientation has consequences for who we are in the world.  The central focus of my life becomes, not what do I want, but what does God want of me?  How do I live a life consistent with my creation in the image and likeness of God?

So we are talking about something more than saying I love God, something more than having a warm and fuzzy feeling toward God.   Loving God means God is the orientation of my life.

You might ask yourself, do you think in these terms?  Is God the center from which you orient your life?

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  

Love of one another comes up again and again in Jesus’ teachings; in one sense, Jesus' entire life is commentary on what it means to love our neighbor.  What is this love we are called to?

First, if we would model ourselves on Jesus, we can’t ignore the fact that Jesus showed love and compassion for everyone seemingly without concern for merit.  If I am going to love my brothers and sisters as Jesus loves me, then I am going to love others not because they are beautiful or smart. Love them not because they are kind or generous or noble. Love them not because they do nice things for me or because they like me or because they love me. 

If I am going to love my brothers and sisters as Jesus loves me, then I am going to love others just because they are. Just because they are loved into being by the same God who loves me into being. Just because they are made in the image of the same God in whose image I am created.

Second, that love must be manifest in deeds not only in word.  Just as with our love of God, it is not enough to proclaim our love for our brothers and sisters, we must act on it.

This love of one another is absolutely central and is not unrelated to the first aspect of the Great Commandment.  As the first letter of John says, “those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” 

Jesus is very clear in his preaching that he did not come to abolish the law.  But love, if you will, becomes in Jesus the true test of one’s true understanding of the law.  That makes love, not one thing among many, but THE central point.  Hence our speaking of this union of love of God and love of one another as the Great Commandment.

I think that we are sometimes dazzled by complexity. We expect that the solution to big issues should include a long list of dazzling feats or at least some complicated deeds.

That can be especially true when the subject is the mystery of God and the path to salvation. Surely, some think, we must have to perform something akin to the twelve labors of Hercules to achieve eternal life. I remember many years ago someone observing about the bodhicitta path to enlightenment taught in Tibetan Buddhism (which emphasizes compassion, "It can't just be about love." The comment implied, love is just too simple to be the answer.

But, try as we might to complicate things, it really is that simple. No daring or extraordinary deeds like cleaning the Augean stables or capturing a Cerynitian Hind. Just love. Love God. Love one another. "The whole law and the prophets depend on these two.

If we are honest, we might be forced to admit that the reason we keep looking for something else is that these are challenging.  But if we call ourselves Christians, it is love we must grow in.  Not the warm and fuzzy feelings we have toward those who are good to us but (1) total orientation of our lives to God; and (2) agapic love for one another.