One of the teachers of the Law of Moses came up while Jesus and the Sadducees were arguing. When he heard Jesus give a good answer, he asked him, “What is the most important commandment?” Jesus answered, “The most important one says: ‘People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The second most important commandment says: ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.” The man replied, “Teacher, you are certainly right to say there is only one God. It is also true that we must love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and that we must love others as much as we love ourselves. These commandments are more important than all the sacrifices and offerings that we could possibly make.” When Jesus saw that the man had given a sensible answer, he told him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” After this, no one dared ask Jesus any more questions.
I often refer to this passage during prayers of confession when I lead worship: “we fail even to keep these two great commandments, and in the stillness we are conscious of all the other ways in which we have let You down and hurt others…”
If these are the two greatest commandments in the Law, shouldn’t we invest more time and effort into at least keeping them? Almost certainly. But that isn’t the whole solution. Elsewhere (James 2:10), we read that stumbling at even one point means breaking the whole of the Law. It has also been said (and I agree) that if we manage to keep the two greatest commandments, everything else follows. To love God with our whole being and to love others as much as we love ourselves (oh – you do remember to love yourself too, don’t you?) will cover all we need to do.
Some of you will be shifting uncomfortably in your seats, remembering that Christians are under grace, not Law. Indeed – we are no longer slaves to sin, so don’t need the Law to keep us under control. Rather, we are under the law of love – grace – and as beloved people we are responsible for our self-control.
As we choose to follow God’s way we will find ourselves ever closer to God’s kingdom.
Gracious God, we thank you for your endless love, for you do not overlook our failings, but actively forgive them. Help us in our dealings with others to show them the same unconditional love. And as we walk the path of love, may we always seek to bring glory to you, with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.
The Rev’d Steve Faber is the Moderator of the West Midlands Synod.