It’s an old joke, but I still like the story. A little boy is testifying in the courtroom and the defense attorney is having trouble shaking his testimony. The judge is protecting the boy so he can’t get too aggressive. Then the attorney asks him, “Did someone tell you what to say in the courtroom today?” “Yes sir,” the boy replied. The attorney’s eyes gleamed. “And who was it that told you what to say?” The little boy answered, “My daddy.” “Aha” the attorney exclaimed. “And just what did your daddy tell you?” “He said that the defense attorney would try to confuse me, but that if I kept telling the truth, I would have no trouble.” When people are trying to trip you up, the truth wins every time.
The Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees thought up all kinds of wild scenarios seeking to trip Jesus up and turn the crowds against Him. Then, perhaps frustrated because Jesus had bested them in all their impossible scenarios, one of the Pharisees asked an important question which got an answer that had guided people through the ages. “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 neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:36-39)
I have always been slightly amused by the fact that Jesus was asked for the one, greatest commandment in the Law, and Jesus had to answer with two commandments. Perhaps the command to love God should have been obvious. In many religious beliefs at the time, though, people were terrified of the gods and sought to appease them through their sacrifices. This command showed the difference between the one, true God and all those made-up imposters. At the same time, the Pharisees loved the Law. They loved to be seen following the Law. They loved all the trappings of their religion. Perhaps they even loved being “spokesmen” for God. What we don’t see in all they say and do is a genuine love for God. They use God and they make His words conform to their practices, but there is no joy and love in their relationship with Him.
Then Jesus brought up the second part of the greatest commandment: loving your neighbor. The two commandments are intertwined because of the nature of God. God loves people. God loves all people. He’s crazy about people. What about my next-door neighbor who plays loud music til 3 in the morning? God loves them. Think of the worst thing that anyone has ever done to you, or a friend, or anyone you read about or see on the news: God loves the person who did that. One of the teachings throughout the New Testament is that you can’t claim to love God, and hate people. Oh, I know, this talks about neighbors, and not other people, but when Luke retells this part of the story, the message of Jesus is to be a loving neighbor to anyone you meet. God loves people no matter what color their skin is or what language they use. God loves people no matter how bad their sin is. When God tells us to love someone and we start to protest because that person has done something terrible, we get a response from God that reminds that He knew that before we did and that He loved them before we tried to hate them. Today we still need to work on both parts of His response: we need to do a better job of loving God and not just the things about God, and we need to love the same people He loves: they are our neighbors.
Oh Lord, it’s so easy for me to love everything that surrounds You, and not focus on You. Help me to love You better each day. Help me to love others and to realize that You love all people – even the ones that seem to drive me crazy. Let me learn to love them as You do.