Love and the Law

It's the law
It’s the law

At some point before he was crucified, Jesus met a lawyer who asked him “What is the greatest commandment”. Jesus answered “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” This conversation is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels with some variation. In both Matthew and Mark, the lawyer asks the question and Jesus answers it. In Luke, the format gets turned around with the lawyer asking Jesus how to attain eternal life and Jesus, in turn, asking him what the greatest commandment is. While the wording of the commandment is 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 of the story), Jesus adds, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” That’s a curious statement and I’ve often wondered what he meant by that. Thinking about it, I believe those 11 words were meant as a replacement for a legal system grown wildly out of control.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, there were over 600 rules (613 to be exact) that Jews were expected to follow. These edicts ranged from the ethical laws of the Ten Commandments such as “You shall not murder”, “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not steal” to the dietary laws of Kashrut (where the word “kosher” comes from) to laws dictating the keeping of the Sabbath. Needless to say, it was bit more than the average Joe (or is it Yoe?) could keep up with. With just one sentence, Jesus boiled those 613 different laws down to two simple commandments.

Simple? Well, yes and no; on the surface, they seem pretty cut and dried. But, they are very loaded statements. For example, if you love God, then it stands to reason that you love what God loves: i.e., the entirety of creation. Now, if we love God’s creation, we’ve got a funny way of showing it. Wars, violence, pollution, oppression, discrimination; these are not evidence of love. In fact, they are the exact opposite. While, these two commandments may seem simple; in reality, they are anything but that.

What it comes down to is this: love God and love your neighbor; everything else is crap. While that may sound revolutionary, it’s not. If anything, it just seems that way because society has become reversed, like a fan motor that’s wired backwards and blows in the wrong direction. Instead of following a messiah, we idolize words. Instead of loving our neighbor, we beat them over the head with a book. If we want to be true followers of Christ, we need to understand that following the law isn’t the point, love is. And, it’s the only point that matters.