The Great Commandment
34 But 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 is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And 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 great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In my last blog, I wrote that Jesus never answered questions directly but only with parables. I’m always? happy to admit when I’m wrong, so I must admit I was wrong about that. How could I forget the greatest commandment?
So here we are, a direct question asked by the Pharisees- a lawyer Pharisee to be exact- gets a direct answer from Jesus. No parable, no miracle, no ambiguous illustration- just a simple, direct answer. If you know anything about lawyers, you might know they like to remain as ambiguous as possible while nailing their opponents down to absolutes and certainties.
After several attempts to nail Jesus pin down some absolute truth from Jesus, the Pharisees were fed up and sent in the big gun: not just a Pharisee, but a Pharisee who was also a lawyer. I can imagine the shock he must have felt when he asked the ultimate question and, instead of the runaround he expected, got an absolute certainty. Jesus knew his audience all too well, and they were all too predictable.
I could talk about Pharisees and predictability all day, but that would just be a distraction from the Greatest Commandment. Only a Pharisee would want to distract from that, so here goes:
I want to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. I’m even willing to throw in all my strength, as other translations include. But what does that mean?
It is often difficult to distinguish between heart, soul and mind because they are all so intertwined. Within the context of a first century understanding, the distinctions made between the three varied slightly from the differences we draw today.
I actually spent a lot of time researching and writing about the specific distinctions, but then I reminded myself that that’s not the point, either. I would encourage you to research for yourself, but I think if you do, you’ll draw a conclusion similar to mine: it’s not about distinctions between different aspects of self; it’s about the whole self. It’s about every single part of who we are and why, what we think and why, and what we do any why. We are supposed to love God with all of every part of every aspect of lives, both physical and non-physical. The point is probably not to make distinctions, because when Jesus said “all,” He meant “all.”
Loving God comes first, that is pretty clear in the directness. Love your neighbor comes second, and love yourself comes third. Kind of, not really.
It is impossible to love our neighbors the way Jesus calls us to if we don’t first love ourselves, and it can be hard to figure out what that means. We have to love ourselves with our heart, soul, mind and strength, because we reflect the image of God and contain His spirit. That can be heard for a lot of people for a lot of reasons, but I think probably especially hard for gay Christians. Gay Christians are very rare, but I think there is absolutely no way to live, exist and thrive as a gay Christian without a very deep consciousness of who God is and who we are. It’s a shame that so many Christians are so closed off toward learning about how a very small minority group of people who are constantly told God and people hate them for who they are come to actually love and accept themselves for who they are. If a gay person can overcome all that they endure and somehow still love themselves, God and people, their understanding of the endless heights, depths and lengths of God’s love is pretty unbelievable, so I guess I can understand how many just simply can’t believe it. It definitely takes a while to get there, but getting there enables us to love our neighbor, hopefully in ways that fulfill the second greatest commandment.
I think it’s impossible to love ourselves in the way God wants us to until we love all of ourselves. Again, the point is not to distinguish or compartmentalize the heart, soul, mind and strength. The point is to love ourselves, God and each other with all of every aspect of ourselves. A lot of times loving our neighbor means only loving parts of them. We may pick and choose and compartmentalize on our neighbors even more than we do on God and ourselves. It’s human nature, it’s unavoidable. I feel like trying to give any kind of advice on this topic would imply that I’ve reached a position to be able to give advice on the second greatest command, and we all know that’s not true. (After writing this I started giving advice, but I deleted it. Maybe another time.)
“On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).
The lawyer got his answer, without having to interpret some parable or extract meaning from another miracle. Jesus left many aspects of our faith up for interpretation, but when it comes to the greatest commandment, He is pretty clear. Love God and love your neighbor, which requires that you love yourself.
In most other stories, the responses of those who hear Jesus’ teaching are recorded. In this story, we don’t know if the lawyer went away sadly, or if he slipped away quietly, or what. If we continue reading this chapter, we see this:
Whose Son Is the Christ?
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
I don’t have a problem not being able to answer questions, but I also hope I never ask them with the same motivation as the Pharisees.