Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Special thanks to Peggy Graff and her guests for providing this uplifting and inspiring addition to us in her Dog Days Duets series. I pray that these weekly selections will uplift your spirits and feed your soul as much as it does mine.
Matthew 22:36-40 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 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 greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
An expert in the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” There were a lot of commandments to choose from. After all, the rabbis of Jesus’ day counted 613 commands in the law and the view was that all the commandments were equal. Everyone knew that to rank them would be the height of human arrogance. The lawyer may have been trying to get Jesus to make a statement that downgraded one part of the law in relation to another part—for example, declaring the moral laws as being more important than the ceremonial laws. Jesus already interpreted the ceremonial law in a different way than the Pharisees did, so the expert’s question was a test—a trap, really.
Jesus answered with words that were familiar to every Jew, words that were (and still are) recited every morning and evening as a prayer. It is called the Shema because that is the first word of the affirmation in the Hebrew language. It means “hear” or “listen.”
Jesus replied to the question in this way: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.”
Notice, what Jesus said about this commandment: This is the first and greatest commandment. Love of God is at the top of the list.
Then,Jesus said the second commandment is like the first: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
How is it like the first? Love of God and love for neighbor are two oars rowing the same boat. Whenever you try to separate the two, you are usually ineffective, and sometimes even destructive. All we have to do is look at the religious dimensions of the Middle East conflicts and religious terrorism wherever it occurs. Look back at history and we see time and again people claiming to love God while destroying their neighbor. What we have seen is the terribly destructive results of hyper-fundamentalism, which claims to love God, yet at the same time destroys the lives of people in the name of the God. Whether it is Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu or Taoist hyper-fundamentalism operating, this claim is illegitimate. The writer of First John puts it so eloquently, “How can you say you love God whom you have not seen, if you cannot love your brother or sister whom you have seen?” Love of God and love of people—the two go hand in hand. They are inseparable.
It seems that the most natural thing in the world is for us to love ourselves and those who are an extension of ourselves—our family, or clan or tribe—and to ignore or even despise the rest of the world.
There is something within us that tends to love our own and to discount or even despise the foreigner, the stranger, and the outsider. If not that, there is the tendency even to dehumanize those with whom we disagree. This way of thinking has taken center stage in the public square and it is contrary to the teachings of Jesus.
Our love of God leads us to see others as God sees. We often say that love is blind. We’ve said it a thousand times, haven’t we? But, the late William Sloane Coffin said, “Love is not blind; it’s visionary. Love sees things the rest of us cannot see.” He was right. The second great commandment is, indeed, visionary. Love for others that follows after the love of God sees others with the eyes of Christ. It sees injustices and it sees the possibilities of new ways of being and relating.
In fact, remember that Jesus so identified with all people that he taught us that when we love another person it is the same as loving Christ. He said, “When you do it to the least of these who are members of my family, you do it to me.” We, in fact, love God by loving another. Jesus linked our love for God and for others in a bond that is inseparable.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster