Remember the Bible Series, #6
The Greatest Commandment
“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me . . . . And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
~ Matthew 22:37-40
In the closing days of Jesus’ ministry, he issued a series of commands and teachings. Not that I discount any of Jesus’ instruction, but I pay particularly close attention to the things he said near the end, the things he particularly wanted his disciples to remember.
Jesus’ quote above was in response to one of the Pharisees seeking to catch Jesus in heresy. The Pharisee asked him what was the greatest commandment. Despite the disingenuous question, Jesus gave a very genuine answer. The Pharisee may have expected a more theological answer along the lines of the constant debates between the Sadducees and Pharisees, but Jesus’ response was simple – first, love the Lord with everything, and then love your neighbor as yourself.
Interesting that Jesus says “and the second is like it,” suggesting there’s an equivalency between the two. I think that Jesus explained this when he talked about the sheep and the goats. He told of a time when he would separate his people, the sheep, from those who would be cast into hell, the goats. His sheep would be those who had fed him and clothed him in his time of need. These people won’t be conscious of having encountered Jesus to either do or not do these things, and he will respond, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40.)
We love God by loving others, we serve God by serving others. This is not a liberal church v. conservative church thing, and serving others is most certainly not to the exclusion of first loving God and believing in him. These things must come together because they work together.
~ Stephen Peterson
But we must reconcile the two verses above; for we must love others as a primary commandment of God; and yet, Matthew 10:37 (and other verses, e.g. Matthew 8:21-22) clearly leads us to prioritize our love for Christ over our love for our families.
But the reconciliation of these two passages is not difficult, if we are simply honest about what they say. “Love God with your whole heart” is the first commandment; and it takes precedence over the “second” commandment. The love for others that God commands us to embrace is not the natural love we feel towards family and close friends. Even a godless person might love his children or parents enormously, perhaps enough to sacrifice his life for them.
And so might we love our parents or children more than ourselves. Christ certainly does not mean to diminish our love of family and friends. Jesus Himself loved Lazarus with a human love, as a friend, and wept when he heard Lazarus had died.
But we cannot use our family obligations to shirk a clear duty towards God. Love of God comes first. We must trust God with our whole heart.
I have heard numerous Christian authorities (example) say that the father of the man, in Matthew 8:21-22, was actually not dead and the man who wanted to stay behind simply wanted to live at home until his father died. But nothing in the Bible says this or even hints at it. This is “easy way out” Christianity. People make things up to avoid teachings in the Bible they dislike; and this is but one example of many.
We don’t want to take this too far. Even if we are scrupulously honest about the Bible, there will times when we will forgo a “church” obligation to meet a “family” obligation. There is some balancing to be done in everyone’s life. Nobody enters a monastery if it means their family will starve to death.
Lord, let me always love you with my whole heart, and my neighbor as myself. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer