In a popular TV comedy one female character is remarking about the male character that she is romantically entangled with by saying, “(He) is the most complicated man that I’ve ever met. I mean, who says exactly what they’re thinking? What kind of game is that?” We live in a world so used to misdirection and filtered conversation that to encounter someone who actually says what they are thinking can be startling.
In the gospel this weekend, a scholar of the law asks Jesus a simple question, “Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?” He isn’t trying to trick Jesus, but is testing to see if Jesus knows the answer.
Jesus responds by reciting the Shema, a Jewish law found in Deuteronomy. Then he adds the law of love for others. What is the greatest law? Love God. Love others. Love well.
Jesus doesn’t mince words or talk about how this may be interpreted. No, the law of God is straightforward and simple. Love.
We struggle with this in three ways. First, we often get the word love wrong. In English we use the word love to mean a number of different emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. In the last week I’ve said I love pizza and I love my wife. I do not love them in the same way. I think it’s helpful to understand the Greek word for love that is used by Jesus here.
Agape is a self sacrificial love. It is a self giving love. This is love that wills the good of the other. It isn’t affection, friendship, or romantic love (though they can and should have forms of Agape within their practice). What kind of love should we have for God? One that put’s God’s will above our own. What kind of love should we have for others? The kind of love that wants what is best for them even if it is difficult for us.
Second, we tend to complicate things when they seem simple. It’s as if we say, “Well, that can’t be all there is. It must be more complicated than that.” And then we go and muddy the waters of the commandment. We rationalize and theorize the kind of behavior we would prefer rather than what Jesus prescribes.
Third, the command is simple, but follow through on it is challenging. Even if we know, we fail to do it. It’s hard to make a gift of self to someone else. Love is costly. To love someone else costs us greatly and to love God costs us everything.
The question we have to ask ourselves is whether or not we are going to seek to follow Jesus’s simple command to love God and love others? Once we make that decision, now comes the work of loving well.
LIVE IT: Double challenge this week. You can do this for a person or for God. First, tell someone you love them. Stop them, look them in the eye and tell them. Second, show them that you love them.