March 22, 2010: The Great Command

Posted on : Mar 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: Still Speaking

This week I want to pick up on a statement I made last week regarding the Great Command and explore it a bit more. In Luke 10:25-28 an expert on the Law asks Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking him: “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” He answered: “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

The Great Command defines our journey of faith as we struggle to live as Jesus told us to: to love God and do right by our neighbor. Unfortunately it seems that sometimes these two interwoven truths, love of God and love of neighbor, have been pulled apart and separated in the way the Church practices its faith. One side developed a rich life of devotion and prayer. A life of personal piety, expressed as a personal relationship with God, yet leaving social justice by the wayside. The other side focused on love of the neighbor, showing deep concern for the plight of the poor, the oppressed, the exploited, the homeless, the outcast, the immigrant. They developed a deep sense of ethics as they worked to bring about justice and equality, yet left by the wayside a life of devotion fed by the richness of God’s word in Scripture.

The one side started to focus more and more on personal piety and the urgent need for all to accept Jesus as their personal Savior or face the consequences in the life after death. For some, “accepting” Jesus became a way to escape punishment, both in the now and eternally. For them, God became a God who controls every aspect of our lives and consequently they view natural disasters and misfortunes as God’s judgments on sin. Not surprisingly, many became disillusioned with this face of Christianity and walked away.

The other side also started to become disillusioned – they had started out with high hopes that they could change the world and bring about a just and peaceable world, but the 20th century left behind more people killed, displaced, and living in poverty than ever before because of wars, greed and power struggles.  For them, God became a powerless or distant God and all hope was placed on the shoulders of humanity to do better than our ancestors. Not surprisingly, many became disillusioned with this face of Christianity and walked away.

And yes, factions of both these groups became militant as they tried to enforce God’s will and rule on earth, as they understood it. A favorite author of mine, Diana Butler Bass, calls it Big-C Christianity, as in militant Christianity: It is a theological disposition that interprets Christianity as an us-against-them morality tale of a suffering church that is vindicated by God through its global victory over other worldviews, and that sees warfare as a means – metaphorical if not actual – to the righteous end of establishing God’s will on earth.

Sound familiar? How far indeed have we strayed from Jesus’ teachings and the Great Commandment. Thankfully it is not the only face of Christianity. There have always been those who have taken Jesus’ teaching seriously and tried to live what he taught and embody the Kindom of God he proclaimed. It’s the side of Christianity who remembers the Jesus who spoke for the poor and the oppressed, who broke bread with sinners, who wanted his followers to know life fully, who inspired people to give up all and follow him, and who believed – even when dying on the cross – in a world of justice, beauty, and love. (Diana Butler Bass)* It’s a Christianity that understands that faith in God is a transformative experience.  A relationship with God changes us and the way we see the world. Diana calls it Generative Christianity: a kind of faith that births new possibilities of God’s love into the world. It’s not about overpowering or victory, but about humble service to all. It’s about our connection with God and our neighbor. It’s about Church as an alternative community where we live out love of God and love of neighbor.

Yes, there is a lot of disillusionment with Christianity out there in the world, and with good reason. Yet, look around and you will still find churches that practice meaningful spiritual practices; who are fed by the richness of God’s word in Scripture, a life of prayer and a deep sense of commitment to social justice.

An expert in the Law, who knew all the musts and must nots, came to Jesus and asked, “How can I inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered: “Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” But wanting to justify himself the expert asked; “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) – a story in which a “despised” person shows love to and humbly serves a wounded “enemy.” “Which one of the three,” Jesus asked, “was a neighbor to the person who was attacked by the thieves?” The expert in the Law answered: “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus turned to the expert and said: Go and do likewise.” It is a story of saving faith, of transformational faith, of regenerative faith. God’s love, mercy and grace transforms us and in turn changes the way we view and treat others. There are still Christian communities who seriously take to heart the command of Jesus to love God and their neighbors as themselves. It is the face of Christianity that embodies love, humble service and hospitality.  “Go and do likewise.”

“Do this and you will live,”

Kobie

* A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Dianna Butler Bass, 2009.