Matthew 22:34-46 (NRSV)
The Greatest Commandment
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 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.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Here Jesus lays a pretty solid template for when we are faced with difficult discussions. Just war? Immigration? Abortion? Juvenile justice systems? Elections? Referendums? Love God, and love your neighbour. If our answer to any question is not an expression of the response Jesus gives here, then it seems it can be counted as a failure on our part. Jesus silences those who question who he is, and what his purposes are, in these moments where truth and love collide. If we are created to respond to beautiful things, then the combination of love and truth is one that cannot be easily refuted or dismissed.
In the silence left by the Pharisees in the wake of Jesus’ words, we can reflect a bit deeper on what Jesus says here. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. That sounds kind of glorious. It sounds like flow. It sounds like the times when your passions, ambitions and gifts collide, and all is flow. Words, stories, art, problems solved pouring out of you; like those conversations where every word is something you want to store safely, like those stories you look back on and wonder if it was you who wrote them, like seeing someone who can dance, dance. Anything done with the totality of heart, soul and mind sounds like the best way to spend our short and long days. When an inner harmony reflects in an outer rhythm, there is no discord between beliefs, values, purposes, actions. It evokes that state of focus, of heightened awareness and self-forgetfulness where all the right synapses are firing, lighting up, making you real bright.
With every vision put forward by Jesus, the opposite is always there in the unsettling unsaid. Those times of embracing a fog that is so far from that hopeful reality, when nothing engages your heart, your mind, your soul; the flow of a murky river, where you’re halfway under. This is the kind of flow where nothing is anything, that dread of feeling far from things of significance, things like connection, like mature love, like giving of oneself to something that is important and beautiful. You have a soul, are a soul. Whatever river we were designed to flow through, my bets are on the fact that it’s a deep one and Jesus’ invitation to utilise all three of our best faculties is a reminder of this.
“The second is like it.” I love that phrase for its simplicity. The second is like this. I imagine Jesus playing a really nice song, then stopping the set, and saying, all understated, “yea, the second is like it”, so you’re expectant that what follows is going to be good. “The second is to love your neighbour as yourself.“ It seems like we are charged by the first to overflow into the second. Our faith and our response blur into one another. “The second is like it.”
This foundational principle, to treat others as you want to be treated, to love your neighbour as yourself is something that has resonated with people for thousands of years, across cultures, as an ideal that carries real truth. Ideals are good things, setting some pinnacle to strive for. When the endpoint has been presented clearly then the process to reach it and the decisions made along the way become easier. There is no command but to love. And this we call to mind when we meet a ‘wreck-the-head’. This we call to mind when we have to wake every morning to the mantra of “I love him and forgive him” when someone has hurt you deeply, until it sounds close to half true, believing in an outcome that seems close to unimaginable, that the end point is healing and the end point is love.
The Kingdom of God is a process we have been invited to be part of – to recognise the messiness and distress in everyday experience and yet see enough truth in the ideal to want move towards it. This process is part of the essence of the Kingdom of God – to transform enemies into neighbours, neighbours to friends, friends to sisters. Maybe we can treat people as one position ahead of where they are now, in anticipation, because we have been promised where this path is leading to. Spoiler: it’s brotherhood, it’s sisterhood, it is love. Maybe we can physically move into new spaces, step into places where suspicions and preconceptions can be dissolved; the forces that protect from the real experience; from the real image of God reflected in every member of humanity in equal measure.
To give this idea a bit of grounding in the everyday Irish experience, it’s probably not a bad time to reflect on the fact that in a recent survey 78% of respondents said they would not have a Traveller as a neighbour, and the sentence that bore into me and wedged itself there; “85% said they would not have a Traveller as a friend”. Sit with that for a second, a minute, a day. Anais Nin (who would be delighted to be quoted in a Christian blog) wrote “It is a sign of great inner insecurities to be hostile to the unfamiliar.” The first commandment asks us to address that inner insecurity, to become firmly established in our hearts and the second invites us on the journey from the real to the ideal, to the course on which our lives have been set.
Emily is currently working part-time as a youth worker in Kilkenny alongside studying for her Masters in Community and Youth Work. She is passionate about tag rugby, proper conversations, dancing, poetry, public transport as a lifestyle choice and seeing people and ideas come together.