The second greatest commandment

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If you read through the gospel of Matthew, by the time you arrive at chapter 22, the influence of Jesus’ earthly ministry is growing.

He has ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey with believers laying cloaks and branches on the road and shouting, “Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest heaven.”

He has overturned the money changing tables in the temple.

He has challenged listeners with parables and shone a light on the hypocrisy of the religious leaders—and those leaders are becoming concerned. The focus is shifting from them and their ways to Jesus and His ways. The power they’ve held so tightly for so long is slipping and they desperately want it back. They hoped to arrest Him but were scared because they knew the people loved Him.

So they hatch another plan—a plan to trick Jesus—to fool Him into making a mistake and to attack His credibility. They set up a few opportunities and take some shots.

They question His authority, and He flips it on them, asking them a question about John’s baptism—which they can’t, or more correctly, don’t want to answer.

They try to bamboozle Him with a tax question—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Jesus’ simple answer amazes them and they wander off.

The Sadducees are next and they pose the most improbable family conundrum where six different brothers marry their dead brothers’ wife and question who will be married to who at the resurrection. Jesus stops them in their tracks.

And then we come to another question they tried to stump Him with—starting in Matthew 22:34.

“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

Great answer.

Perhaps simplistically, when I think of “all the Law and the Prophets”, I think about the Bible—perhaps more correctly in this context, it is the Old Testament. Either way, it is a thick book with lots of pages. But in Jesus’ response, we have in one sense the “executive summary” of the Old Testament. If we had to—and I am glad we don’t have to—but if we had to compress the Bible message into less than 40 words, this is it:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

I heard Gary Krause, director of Adventist Mission for the world Church, paraphrase this beautifully earlier this year. He said, “The Church only has two purposes—to enlarge God’s kingdom and to benefit the world.” How good and how simple is that. Love God. Love others.

They are in the right order—God first—but they are both important, and I’d like to suggest that they are so intrinsically connected that the two greatest commandments are joined at the hip—so to speak.

When we love God with all our heart, mind and soul—when we are in that type of a relationship with God—it is impossible to not appreciate how much God loves every other person, equally, the same as He loves us.

Additionally, God expresses a special concern for those who are overlooked, silenced, oppressed, living in hardship—Jesus told us in Matthew 25 that we have a special responsibility for the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. [pullquote]

He didn’t phrase this in terms of “if you have time, help out those in need”. These were the criteria that separated the sheep from the goats—helping the “least of these” in Jesus’ words, is the same as helping Him. That makes it pretty important. I don’t think any of us would intentionally walk past Jesus suffering on the side of the road.

From this perspective, loving others becomes part of loving God. They are inseparable—two sides of the same coin.

And it works the other way too.

When we genuinely love others—without strings attached—we lay the foundations for trust to develop and relationships to strengthen. From those relationships, a window to the God of love can be opened and if those we help peek through that window, all sorts of questions and outcomes are possible.

I met Mikey about 15 months ago. I was in Brisbane for some ADRA work and I spent an evening volunteering with the Vital Connection ADRA project. This project involves preparing and transporting meals to the CBD and serving it to people doing it tough.

I am not sure how Mikey first became involved with Vital Connection but he was in, boots and all. The week I was there, Mikey had volunteered on three separate days for about six hours each day. He was extremely committed to helping others.

As we chatted, I found out that Mikey’s life had been changed through Vital Connection. When he joined he didn’t have an active faith, but he did have questions and curiosity. Through the friendly and inclusive environment the ADRA team created, and their commitment to serve others that he witnessed and participated in, that inkling of faith grew into Bible studies and the Bible studies led to church and today, Mikey is a baptised Seventh-day Adventist.

Helping people creates connections. Connections create trust. Trust is the building block for spiritual conversations. When you love people in a genuine and practical way, the window to a loving God is eased open.

So here is the takeaway message: Loving God leads to loving others. Loving others can lead to others loving God. The intersection of the two greatest commandments.

Paul Rubessa is CEO of ADRA Australia.

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