When Jesus is asked what he understands to be the greatest of the commandments, he responds from the Shema Yisrael (“Hear, O Israel) prayer with a verse from Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength,” followed with a paraphrase of Leviticus 19:18, “You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” He links these two together, saying that the second is like the first. They are, essentially, one and the same.
The legal experts of Jesus’ time and context might have argued whether Sabbath-keeping, or circumcision, or sacrifices, were most central, or important, to being faithful to God. In the midst of that debate they test him with the question, “Which is the greatest commandment.” Within our time and context we separate secular and religious legal arguments, yet neither is any less contentious. Whether the question under consideration is access to firearms or access to ordination, there is a fundamental question of our guiding principles, the core beliefs which shape our views.
For disciples of Jesus, however, there can ultimately be only one ethic: love God and love neighbor, because these are one and the same. Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic worker movement quoted above, held that it often wasn’t possible to be both a good American and a good Christian. For her the call of the Gospel – to stand in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, to live communally with the least in our midst, to see Christ in each person we meet - had to come first. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength and being, and love your neighbor as yourself.
As we move through this pandemic, as we make choices at the polls, as we listen for God’s call and watch for ministry needs in our midst, may we live into Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor.
Peace for the journey,