Let’s face it – 2020 has been a strange year.
But God was not surprised by all the events that have happened.
Would you join me in a four-week countdown to Thanksgiving?
When we stop for a moment, we realize we have much to be thankful for.
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”(Matthew 22:34-40, English Standard Version)
Today I am thankful that God simplifies priorities in my life. Out of all the things that Jesus might have said, two simple phrases capture the totality of our relationship with God and others:
Love your neighbor.
The religious leaders were upset with Jesus, and were trying to find fault with Him and discredit Him. They were asking Jesus question after question, thinking that they could catch Him in some fault.
Notice how Jesus answered the religious expert’s question – with respect and grace, and in context that the man would understand. Jesus quoted two Old Testament verses that would be very familiar to this man – Deuteronomy 6:5 (Love God) and Leviticus 19:18 (love your neighbor).
The man intended to trap Jesus – and Jesus returned kindness and truth wrapped in love and openness to the man. This was not a “have-to” command to love God and to love our neighbor, a weighty burden with retribution if the man did not follow Jesus’ words.
Instead, this was an open invitation to experience God’s love and care, so much so that that the man would choose to love God out of gratitude – a “get-to”, not “have-to” kind of love.
And out of that abundance of love that God so freely gives, the man would share God’s love and care with others around him – his neighbors.
Notice that there are no conditions on our worthiness to receive God’s love toward us, or on the worthiness of our neighbors to qualify for our love. As God loves us freely, so we can learn to love our neighbors the same, even the ones that are not so easy to love.
Here is another paraphrase that captures the heart of Jesus’ reply:
34-35 but not the Pharisees! When they heard that he [Jesus] had routed the Sadducees with his reply, they thought up a fresh question of their own to ask him. One of them, a lawyer, spoke up: 36 “Sir, which is the most important command in the laws of Moses?”(Matthew 22:34-40, The Living Bible Translation, bracketed text mine)
37 Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ 38-39 This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.’ 40 All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets stem from these two laws and are fulfilled if you obey them. Keep only these and you will find that you are obeying all the others.”
Lord, thank You for simplifying my priorities in life – to love You and to love my neighbor. Thank You for setting the example of how to love through the life of Your son Jesus who became human and demonstrated first-hand how to love You and love others.
Lord, when I am short-tempered with my neighbors (my wife, my family, my at-home neighbors, and my work neighbors), help me to remember how much You love me, even when I don’t deserve Your love. And help me to remember to love others as You love me.
As I experience Your love, Lord, it helps me understand and accept Your love and make room in my heart to see myself as You see me, and to love others in that same way.
Lord, help me to have extra grace and mercy toward those “prickly” neighbors – to remember that they are made in Your image, and You love them immeasurably more than I can ever know or understand. And to remember that I am sometimes “prickly” and hard to love, and You love me just the same.
Thank You Jesus – for showing kindness and offering good when the legal expert tried to trap You in Your words. Help me to do the same with others, to respond with kindness and grace.
Learning to be loved by God, and to love my neighbors,