In an age that tends to shy away from laws, commandments of the law and prefers personal interpretation of the law rather than reasonable understanding, this passage from Mark’s Gospel today confronts us. A Pharisee asks Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Which one of the 613 precepts of the law is most important? We know what Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole being, your whole self.” This is part of the shema, the text from Deuteronomy 6:5 observed by faithful Jews and the second part of Jesus’ response is from Leviticus 19:18. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
For most people it is easy to say that we love God with our whole being, more than spouse, children or family members, and certainly spouse, children and family come in a close second. It is somewhat easy to love God because God has loved us first of all, loved us into being, loved us in our brightest moments and darkest hours, loved us in ways we can’t fully comprehend or imagine. God chooses to love us so much that we can live, move, and have our being every single day. It is somewhat easy to love someone in return, someone who loves us despite our faults and weaknesses, despite our sins and even our crimes.
But, to love my neighbor as myself, now that is entirely another matter as we grapple with this commandment of inclusivity. If I truly love myself, am kind to myself, am considerate, and respectful despite my sins and shortcomings, how can I bring God’s love to those who live on the margins, those on the sidelines, those who are different from me? How can I love my neighbor? I can only love them with God’s grace and help, but that is what God expects from us. As Bartimaeus responded to Jesus’ question: “What do you want me to do for you?” “I want to see,” the blind man said, then if we expect God to love us, we ought to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is the true test of our faith, to love our neighbor and ourselves, after loving God with our whole being. What would that kind of world look like, if all of us fulfilled that command?
Father Larry Hendel, Pastor