Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus.”Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?” He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence– and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” “Good answer!” said Jesus.”Do it and you’ll live.” Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
I have preached Jesus’ Great Command over and over, both directly and with passing reference. Whether you are a new believer in Jesus, a life lo g church-goer, or simply somewhat curious, this is the definitive summary of what God desires from your life. “What’s God’s will for my life?”; what’s does the Divine plan for me?”, and all other permutations of that question, find their answer in the words “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as well as you love yourself”. Now, the Bible is very clear that while each of us is to be doing this, God in His infinite creativity has created each one of us, equipped each of us, to accomplish this in a unique way. But the mission of everyone on “Team God” is summarized by the Great Command.
I am fascinated that here in Luke, the Great Command is being stated by a religious scholar, one of a group of people that was having a difficult time with Jesus. This guy, though, seems to be sincere. As he answers Jesus, you can almost hear Jesus responding, “ok, uh-huh, alright, yep, almost there – yes! You’ve got it! Oops, ya lost it”. The man just had to ask, “so, what does ‘neighbor’ mean?”
And that my friends is the lump in the oatmeal. It’s the fly in the ointment, the mosquito in the room, the unidentified clunking noise in your car. We all want to know, “does this mean God wants me to love that guy? Those people? Can’t I just get by with dis-interested tolerance?”. We all want to know what the fine print is on this thing, where the escape clause is. And that means we really don’t get the command. The love God with all your heart-soul-mind-strength part is somewhat easy to pat ourselves on the back about, even if we aren’t in church all that often. Heart-soul-mind-strength are ambiguous enough that we can feel satisfied we’ve followed through despite spending Sundays at the cabin, on the tractor, in bed, in Starbucks, or on the links. (As a former pastor I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: going to church every Sunday doesn’t mean you’re succeeding either – but that’s another topic).
However, loving our neighbor as well as we love ourselves is right-in-your-face difficult to fudge on. That’s why we all want the definition of neighbor. Every day we bump up against people who are downright unlovable. What about them?
Jesus answers the question, of course, with his clever parable of The Good Samaritan. The bad news is, the answer is, yes. Everyone. The hard to love, the unlovable, those no one else wants, people who hate you, people you naturally detest.
Yup, that’s the lump in the oatmeal of God’ will for each of us. The good news is that no one could ever choke down that lump of oatmeal in the first place. So if that’s what God wants from people, then God had to do something to make it possible to really love him with all of our being, and love hard to love people as well as we love ourselves. Galatians 5 says that we have been set free by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – set free from our hard-wired self-centeredness that makes it impossible to follow the Great Command.
Can you love the way God wants you to love? Absolutely not. But if you have been set free by Jesus, you have been set free to love others (look up Galatians 5:13, 14). And incidentally, free to truly love God with every aspect of yourself. It won’t be easy to love the unlovable person you bump up against tomorrow, but if you have been set free by Jesus, it will be possible, because he loves that person as much as he loves you.
By the way, what is that noise your car is making?