Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is…, At?

LoveThyNeighborAsThyselfA few days, in “A Big Blow Off” I said ” a bunch of seminary-trained people sitting around shooting the theological shit isn’t going to push this movement forward. To do that, we’re going to have to distill what we believe into a coherent message that regular folks can get their head around.” Now, it really gets on my nerves when someone criticizes something without providing an answer. That said, here’s my interpretation of that “coherent message”: Love God, love your neighbor. Everything else is crap.

I’m sure someone, somewhere is saying something about relativism or whatever the criticism du jour happens to be. The fact is this is scriptural. In all three synoptic gospels, a lawyer asks Jesus “What is the greatest commandment”, to which Jesus answers “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.” While the question and Jesus’ answer are consistent, what follows isn’t. In Mark, the lawyer praises Jesus’ knowledge and understanding of the law. In Luke, the exchange leads to the story of the Good Samaritan. In Matthew, and this is my favorite version, Jesus follows up by saying, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” I’ve always wondered what He meant by that because it seems at odds with other statements, especially Matthew 5:17-18,

““Don’t even begin to think that I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I haven’t come to do away with them but to fulfill them. 18 I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality.”

But, after much navel-gazing and profound pondering, I realized that the commandments love God and love your neighbor are the fulfillment of the law. Bet you’re wondering how I got there, huh?

Okay, basically laws are intended to provide the most complete protection possible of our rights and we establish them to allow us to live together in relative harmony. That’s the case today and it was the case in Moses day. According to the Bible, the law we’re dealing with (the Law of Moses) was handed down by God to Moses after the Israelites left Egypt. Why did they need the law when they’d never had it before? Because when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he had a huge mob on his hands that had no rules and no idea how to live together.  God, being omniscient, understood this and gave Moses the Law to fix the problem. Thus, the Law of Moses is a set of rules intended to protect the rights of the Israelites and allow them to live in harmony. The point of this history/civics lesson? That when Jesus says “neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality”, He’s not speaking literally.  What He’s saying is that when we finally live up to the spirit of the Law (i.e. respect each other’s rights and live in harmony), the Law won’t be needed anymore. Think about this: if we love God, we will love what God loves: the entirety of creation, which, as much as we may wish it didn’t, includes our neighbor. And, if we truly love our neighbor, would we steal from them, lie to them, kill them?  I didn’t think so. See, fulfillment of the law. Betcha didn’t think I could do it.

Emergent Christians can be very diverse in their beliefs, but I think certain things are common to all of us: love, justice and radical inclusivity among others. Any message we put out there must embrace these things while remaining flexible enough to accommodate the rich diversity of belief that makes us who we are. I believe “Love God, love your neighbor. Everything else is crap” does that and does in a way that is easily understood. Easily accomplished is another story.