In the South there are a lot of rules. Well, I say “rules” but native southerners call them manners.
A couple examples are offering people most of your possessions when they walk through your front door and helping them get their coats on as you walk them out. Of course there’s saying yes ma’am and no sir. And one I’ve never understood: When you see someone you know, always act like you’re going to invite them to dinner, but never actually do it.
It helps to know these things. It can get awkward if you don’t. There are a lot of folks who will let you get by with breaking the rules because they don’t follow them either. But there are some that keep the rules and if you don’t they’ll still be polite but yea, you’re getting judged.
The Heavy Rules
The Pharisees had a lot of rules too, but they were much less polite. They had memorized all 613 commandments in the Law. To make sure you were keeping their favorite laws they divided them. Some laws they considered light. Breaking them was no biggie. The rest they saw as heavy. If you broke those they would lay on the guilt.
One of these guys asked Jesus about the rules. He said, “Which one is the heaviest.” Jesus responded by reciting the Shema – Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus even went so far as to say that they weren’t just the heaviest two commandments, as if they were the first commandments to obey before the other 611. He said that they were the only commandments that we need at all. In fact, these two commandments swallowed up all of the instruction in the Old Testament.
Basically, Jesus has two rules, and if you keep them you can do whatever you want – because at that point all you will want is the glory of God and the good of your neighbor – and that’s all Jesus wants.
The Good Rules
They’re different from any other rules. First of all, they are rules of response. Jesus’ best friend John said, “We love him because he first loved us” and “If God so loved us we ought to love one another.” These two rules are nothing more than the natural reaction of a person who has seen the cross.
Second, these two rules build in us the goodness other rules can’t. The other day I was at my church and approached by a homeless man who asked for $45. He said he needed it to get a place to stay. We don’t give cash as a policy, so I told him I’d get him anything else he needed.
Our church was having a meal that night, so he ate with us. I prayed to Jesus, thinking through these two rules and then helped him out by going to the store and grabbing a few things for him.
On the way home my wife asked me how I felt about the interaction. I felt like I did what was good. And it’s not because I am good. It’s these two rules. They make us do good.
What makes a good parent? What makes a good employee? What makes a good church leader? Loving God and loving our neighbor.
What about a good citizen? Think about these two rules in light of any controversy in society.
The most recent controversy is over which bathroom transgender people should use. It’s not bad to take a side or even take action. But, as Christians, I think we’ve lacked some goodness because we’ve taken sides and actions before stopping to consider love.
I am not saying love would even change your core position. But it may give you a chance to explain yourself more helpfully than just calling everyone a bigot. Or saying you’re going to bust out a shotgun whenever your wife has to pee at Target. It may even lead you down a road where you end up in an offline conversation with someone who has the opposing view.
I know you say you’re not the hateful one, but as Christians we must really think carefully about who we love and who we love the least. Because these two rules are connected to one another. That means, as Dorothy Day once pointed out, we really only love God as much as the person we love the least.
The Only Rules
The Shema comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which states,
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
The second part comes from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
These verses, possibly along with some others, became a central creed for the devout followers of the Lord in Old Testament times. They put these passages to a tune and would sing them often. Additionally, and I find this fascinating, they would recite these passages as a family twice every day – once in the morning and once in the evening.
Under the New Covenant these two laws are not abolished but elevated as, in one sense, the only law. It gets me excited to think of the Christian culture we could become if those of us who believe started every day with, “I will love God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself” and then ended every day thinking, “If I did anything worthwhile at all today it was loving God and putting my neighbor first.”
Imagine all the growth you would personally experience if you would stop working on everything else and just work on these two things. Your anger, greed, lust, hatred, anxiety and depression would start to look more like hills rather than mountains.
Whatever it is you think you need to work on in your Christian life, it’s probable that you need to scrap that and just start focusing on this. Plus, if it takes off, we might actually get invited to dinner.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimdokhac/