We are going to illustrate what Jesus said are the greatest commandments. You will need a sheet of paper and a pencil, and some colouring pencils or highlighters.
Draw three circles, one inside another, so that it looks like a target. You can cut round the largest circle if you like.
In the outer circle write or draw things that are good, but not lasting. These might be: promotion, status, wealth. Include activities such as sports, parenting, church activities. (Yes, even those – you don’t get into heaven by attending Bible class every week.)
The next circle is for people. Have you noticed how many times the Bible tells us to look after our possessions or to remember our careers or to be faithful in attending this or that group? Not ever. It tells us to look after the widows and orphans. It tells us to remember the alien in our land. It tells us to be faithful in prayer and in giving to the poor.
So write or draw people in this circle. Name your friends and family, your colleagues, the mums at the school gate, the blokes down the pub, the people in your street – if you do not have them on your heart, who will? These are your neighbours.
In the centre, put prayer. And I don’t mean prayer meetings, I mean the ‘sit in your room with the door shut and talk to your father in heaven who sees the unseen’ prayer. I mean sitting with our Lord without a multitude of words. This is where we learn to Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength. I speak to myself here.
Colour the inner circle as you hear these words: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Colour the middle circle as you hear this, and repeat the words to yourself: The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
We leave the outer circle plain.
Sometimes I feel a bit sorry for Jesus. His closest friends never really got him, and half the time they had no idea what he was talking about. Like when he said ‘in three days I will rise again’, and yet they were still surprised when he did.
One of my favourite ‘duh’ moments is with Peter (good old foot-in-mouth Peter). He’d just seen Jesus glorified in heavenly splendour, displayed as the incarnate majesty of God in holy, radiant glory. Peter’s suggestion? “Ooh, would you like me to put up a tent?” Honestly, Peter. Put brain in gear before releasing mouth. (I do like Peter; he so reminds me of me.)
So it must have been quite a relief to meet the guy in today’s reading. Finally, someone on the same wavelength as Jesus. Hooray! But look who it is – a teacher of the law. Jesus usually had some stinging words for them.
These were supposed to have been the good guys. Along with the Pharisees, they were the ones who took their religion seriously. They taught it to others and made sure they did everything that God had said. So why did Jesus usually greet them with ‘Blind guides, hypocrites, white-washed tombs’? Ouch!
Well, it all depends on what you mean by doing everything that God has said. How many times did Jesus repeat, “It is written … but I say to you …”? These folks were being so careful to look at the minute details of God’s law that they had missed what it actually said. They were peering so closely to examine the details of the pattern on the bark of the tree, that they completely missed the forest.
That’s why Jesus confronted them by healing on the Sabbath, touching the unclean and dining with ‘sinners’ – had they not realised that they were sinners too? Did they not realise that all of us, even the ‘good’ people, need God’s forgiveness? Apparently not.
Paul mentioned this when writing to the Corinthians: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Cor 3:6
It reminds me of driving in Wales. (Stay with me, it is relevant, honest.)
If you’ve ever driven in Wales, you’ll know it can be a bit of an adventure. Even the A-roads are not always two cars wide in places, and with high banks on both sides, corkscrew turns, and a tractor / herd of sheep / flood round every bend, you need to drive very Caerphilly!
Yet there are still some nutters who insist on hurtling round at 60mph on these tiny roads. You can spot them easily – they’re the ones who park upside down in the middle of a dry stone wall.
Why do they do that? Because the law says they can. 60mph. That’s the limit on these roads. The letter of the law says it’s legal to do 60mph down a narrow country road with a blind bend while cresting a hill. But that’s not the point. It’s legal, but it’s not safe. Following the letter of the law will get you killed, just like Paul said.
The point is that we’re supposed to drive safely. I guess someone once said, ’but what does safely mean?’ So then they set speed limits, so that folks would know that anything beyond that was not safe. But they are limits, not targets. Same with The Law (with capitals).
Just as the overall law for driving is ‘drive safely’, and the various laws spell out what is not safe, so the overall law for living is ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. The Law spells out some instance of what this mean by setting limits on behaviour, but not targets.
One of those limits was ‘don’t tolerate adultery’. But Jesus, when faced with the woman caught in adultery (‘where was the man?’ we might ask), looked to the spirit of the law, not the letter. He knew the speed limit, but chose to drive slower. He showed mercy and forgiveness, because that’s what was right, rather than stoning her because that was the speed limit.
Sticking to the letter is all very well if you’re a stamp, but otherwise let’s try to focus on the what Jesus, and the guy in our passage, said are important, not the peripheral issues.
Peter wanted to set a limit of forgiveness in Matt 18 – seven times. I’m guessing that one of the other disciples was really bugging him and Peter was up to 6 already. Jesus blew that limit out of the water. Seventy times seven is like saying a million billion zillion times.
Sounds great in theory. I find it hard in practice. How about you?
Lord, my Father
I confess to you that I am often taken up with the small things of life and forget what is really important.
I spend my time on doing things for you instead of being with you.
I concern myself with looking good instead of being good.
I see faults in others that you see in me.
Forgive me for my blindness, Lord.
Help me to keep my eyes fixed on your kingdom and your righteousness so that I may reflect it into the world.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
New International Version (NIV)
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