One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself,’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
We are reeling from the horrific news of the 11 people shot at a Pittsburgh synagogue this past Saturday. This is difficult to square with Jesus’ two commandments to love God and others as ourselves. As a recent cartoon so aptly depicted, if you hate or fear Jews, on many levels, you also hate and fear Jesus.
Many are pondering the correlation between the action of political leaders and the numerous outbreaks of violence reported in the news lately. Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist, developed the theory of self-efficacy and the role of modelling of aggressive behaviour in children. In his ground-breaking studies during the 1960s he showed the significant negative impact trusted leaders have on young people when those leaders exhibit aggressive behaviour. Bandura also showed that the opposite is true, that leaders can have positive impact on other’s behaviour when they model positive, socially responsible behaviour. We should never underestimate the impact we have on other people, especially those we have influence over. If our hearts yearn for peace in these deeply polarized times, then it truly does begin with us and our ability to love God and others as ourselves.
Jesus’ commandment to love God would have been a standard response but adding the requirement to love your neighbour as yourself was the surprise. For Jesus, love of God is inextricably linked with love of others. I sober up a bit when I remember that “others” includes enemies.
And about that love of God…our passage suggests it is uncompromising. God demands we love with our heart, soul, mind and body. I think we are very good at loving with our minds. Pretty good at loving with our strength or body. Somewhat good at loving with our heart. But loving with our soul, now there’s the challenge! There are no secrets or places to hide when we love with our soul. Can you sense what it would be like to love from the soul?
I will take time in the quiet today to ask God to pour love into my soul, so that from there I may love.
RUTH 1:1-18In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives;the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
We have completed our time with Job and have moved, for the next two weeks, to the Book of Ruth. You sometimes hear this passage at weddings as it speaks of the close ties that families sometimes experience with marriage. It is not, however primarily a story about marriage. It is about the bonds of love that has developed between two women—a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law from a foreign nation—that has transformed and unified them beyond their cultural distinctiveness. “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” The tragic deaths of their husbands has resulted in a non-traditional family of women that crosses culture, family status and religion.
Ruth—a foreign, Moabite widow—becomes the great-grandmother of David and a part of Jesus’ lineage. Just when you think you have God and religion figured out there are these weird twists to our faith story!
Once again we hear the call of love. Love that breaks down culture, tribe and family alliances, and breathes vibrant new life with the stranger, the alien, the unfamiliar.
My prayer today: Help me God to see the areas of my life where I am prejudiced and bigoted. Help me not to be defensive and shut down when I see what I don’t like. Help me see with your eyes of Love, O God, the beautiful people of many races and cultures and help me share that which I have been so privileged to receive.
In quiet, once again I ask Christ to pour his love into my heart.
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.When they breathe their last, they return to earth, and in that day their thoughts perish. Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! whose hope is in the Lord their God; Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; who keeps his promise for ever; Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous; the Lord cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked. The Lord shall reign for ever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
Two passages stand out to me today: “the Lord cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and widow.” And “Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth.”
As the caravan of desperate, vulnerable people fleeing violence, persecution and poverty makes its way to the American border, I will hold them gently in my quiet time of prayer.
My prayer to God: Protect them, O God please!
God’s prayer in me: Where are you fearful? Be my love.
But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
And another week of Hebrews! According to our scripture passage, knowing Jesus is more than simply experiencing dispensation from a high priest. Rather, to know Jesus is to know and experience God. Marcus Borg, the late Episcopalian theologian, said that Jesus does not teach us to be anxious about our own security but “invites people into a relationship which is the source of transformation.”
Let’s take some time today to be present to God in this relationship and sit in silent love.