Jesus gives him two answers. Straight from Deuteronomy.
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
And without a pause he continued…
The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
Now hit the pause button. Did you see that last statement?
Most Christians would know by heart the phrase ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart… but that second part can get easily missed when we read through it.
Here Jesus tells us that the order we love is this;
While this appears to be somewhat righteous, I believe it has led to more damage in peoples lives as they burn out, mess up, become disenchanted with faith or following God.
God is His infinite wisdom gave these commandments to the Israelites in a specific order.
Loving God is not meant to be a chore. Neither is loving our neighbour. But it can happen when we continue to output out of ourselves without being filled ourselves. We think we are doing the ‘right thing’ when in fact we are enslaving ourselves to wrong thinking. Resentment can and does creep in.
Yes, there are time when God calls us into periods of suffering, but even Paul who lets be fair wrote most of the books on suffering said that God’s word to Paul (and us) is ‘My Grace is sufficient for you’ (2 Cor 12:9).
When we take the time to get this order right, Loving God, then loving ourselves, then we will have to give out of overflowing love more to give to our neighbours, not our scrappy seconds.
So, what do I mean by loving ourselves? Let us look at how we would treat a neighbour. We would want to speak to them with dignity and honour. Do we talk to ourselves like that? We would want that neighbour to know we appreciate them. Do we appreciate ourselves?
Ask yourself this question. What do you do that fills you? What do you like doing that bring you joy and puts something into your tank?
Too often we can fall into the trap of thinking it is all sacrifice and output for those we love. We forget or maybe we have not been told that to love abundantly we must come from a place where we have something to give. The way we best love is when we are loving God, looking to Him for our needs, then we are looking after ourselves mentally and emotionally followed by an overflowing of love to those around us.
What if we took Jesus seriously? Some of the beatitudes we have been looking at recently are more than just suggestions and more than just a list of virtues to live up to or try and obtain. They are at the heart of the message Jesus spoke to His audiences.
Matthew 25 records once such conversation Jesus had in which He describes the actions in which we show we really are His followers.
This passage is confronting and challenging and yet if we dare to look more closely at it, we run the risk of being challenged around if our heart really does point true North towards Jesus or if our love fails to extend to those around us.
Christianity has always been a bit different. Jesus showed us that the way we love God is by how we treat those around us that are made in His own image. Regardless of if they believe in Him or not, there is the divine image of God in each person (Gen 1:26). The parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25 balances this point to the razors edge.
Our Sunday meetings and life groups are great places in which to socialize and encourage ourselves. They are however the pre-match warm up to the rest of the week. Our real calling from God is to extend out His love to those around us. The trap is that the easiness of our Sunday huddle becomes the box ticking exercise that we could equate with doing ‘spiritual stuff’. That is the best place to start if you want spiritual drift to start to happen in your life.
If we asked the question, ‘Was Jesus serious?’ when he pointed to the ways in which we are called to be followers of Him by seeking him out in the lowly and downcast of Matthew 25.
Mother Teresa took this call very seriously and found herself picking up the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta. Finding these people and treating them with care and dignity was the least she could do. What if our faith was challenged like Mother Teresa’s was? What if we took Jesus words seriously?
Would it invoke a sense of justice for those down and out within our community? Would it motivate our love to be shown not just for those easiest for us but into the costly getting our hands dirty people? Even to those broken souls who are paying with the currency of their life (time) in jails due to poor or selfish decisions?
Mother Teresa came from a very affluent family, and I am sure at some stage she counted the cost. We all must do (Luke 25:14-23)
In her own words Mother Teresa was compelled to love those weak, smelly, filthy, and dying in the streets of Calcutta because her saviour Jesus loved her. She determined to care for them as though they were Jesus himself.
Does the love of Jesus compel you? Enough to do the uncomfortable? Enough to seek Him out in the lonely, lost, and desperate?
Jesus cares about you. More than your loved ones do. More than anyone else in your family or your best friend, or your children.
When we let that sink in and warm our hearts, love then motivates our feet and hands to love Jesus back, not just in words and songs on a Sunday morning which is easy and does not really cost us but in the way we love His world and His children, lost or otherwise around us.
We approach Easter every year, on Good Friday we remember Jesus dying on the cross for us.
Easter Sunday, we look back to celebrate the rising of Jesus from the grave and His victory over death and what that means for us.
Then we have Monday off and continue Tuesday as normal.
What if though we continued to dwell on the resurrection of Jesus?
Mary Magdalene in her grief heading to the tomb on the third day to prepare the body of her teacher and friend. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the Pharisee had quickly prepared Jesus body after death by most likely paying a substantial amount to the Roman authorities. Mary was expecting to take a careful amount of time to properly prepare the body wrap it gently and give Jesus the proper burial.
Her plans however were interrupted. The stone was not there and the guards she expected to encounter and plead with had fled. The tomb Jesus was laid in was empty. Far from being rapturous with excitement and like everyone else who had witnessed Jesus’ death, she was not expecting to see Jesus alive again. No one was. Nobody came back from the dead then either.
Shock and terror filled her, what had been done with the body of Jesus? Who took it? Grief now filled her heart as the last loving goodbye to her Savior’s body had been stolen from her.
Mary makes space for her tears. She takes the time to acknowledge the grief and loss. She allows space for her emotions.
In doing so, rather than hastily trying to compose herself, she encounters Jesus in her darkest moment of grief.
‘Woman, why are you weeping’?
Jesus’ encounters with people after the resurrection seem to start with a question.
Mary is not expecting it to be Jesus, it’s not until he says her name that she realizes that it’s Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to just get busy or distract myself than feel difficult emotions. I do not always allow myself space to grieve when I hear saddening news. Mary though gives us a great example. Her pausing to allow the loss to be felt, the disappointment to come out shows us that in that, Jesus can meet with us in that place.
In the darkest most painful moments Jesus comes to us to heal and restore and give us the thing we need most desperately: Hope.
Jesus comes to Mary who is expecting to tend to the dead body of Jesus, instead finds a resurrected living in the flesh Jesus, He gives her the task to tell the disciples that He has risen.
Is there times in which you could allow the emotions of what’s been going on to wash over you? Rather than staying stoic until it all gets too much. Sitting silently with the Lord talking with Him about what has brought sadness to your heart, frustration, or disappointment is an opportunity to meet with Jesus if you are willing to make space for the emotions God has blessed you with.
Let's live with Easter in our hearts this year as we move forward.