The First and Great Commandment

The First and Great Commandment

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
Proverbs 9:10

So, if we remember, God’s relentless pursuit of his people in Jesus is coming to a head. Jesus has come into Jerusalem in triumphal procession, albeit on a donkey, he has cleansed the Temple, he has cursed a figure for mot bearing fruit and then told two parables against the Pharisees, one of the Vineyard and the other of the Wedding Banquet. One a parable of the Son being killed and one of His Marriage – The Pharisees, and the Sadducees are trying everything possible to stop him, by asking questions to do with the Law, and relentlessly the focus is drawn back to Jesus – even over the question of paying taxes to Caesar . . . Do you See? Do you recognise Me? You recognise Casar and his blasphemous claim to be the Son of God . . . but what of the one stood in front of you? Like Pilate and his question when Jesus is stood before him, ‘What is Truth?’

All the questions, testing Jesus, trying to trap him in terms of the Law and one last time they try. ‘One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”’ Which commandment . . . which reveals their problem . . . you see, for the Pharisees there were 613 commandments in Tanakh, The Law and The Prohpets – 613!! Indeed there are! And the Pharisees in their concern not to break one had added lots of interpretative laws as well – for example there were 39 specific types of work forbidden on the Sabbath . . . or the question of the neighbour – Who is my neighbour – a matter of vigorous dispute amongst the various schools in Judaism – especially for the pharisees who wanted desperately to preserve National Identity by keeping anything, or anyone unclean out. They strongly believed that as long as they did this, they were safe from God’s judgement and that therefore their uneasy peace with the Romans would be sustained. If we just keep the Law properly then we won’t end up in exile like our ancestors . . . Keeping in with the occupiers, especially when the occupiers made sport of crucifying people . . . who really can blame them??

So, which commandment, because there are so very very many – like a world of distractions, like poor Martha . . . and Jesus response is like that of the prophets before him is Simple. “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
And of course the Pharisees knew this – Everyone knew it – why, one of the 613 laws was to recite these words every morning! Shema!! HEAR O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. This, says Jesus Is the First Commandment, and it Is the Greatest. “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” as for the other 612 ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

Now, we tend to think that Jesus adds ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ because we think that the Pharisees were concentrating on the First to the exclusion of the Second – except of course they weren’t. For As Jesus had already pointed out, the Pharisees cared little for God. They loved rather the praise of the people – or were afraid of the crowds – it is two sides of the same coin 🙂 And they loved money . . . As Jesus had said, ‘you can’t serve both, for you will love one and hate the other, or serve on and despise the other’ . . . No, the Pharisees problem was that they did not love God OR their neighbour. The two commands are inextricably linked – No, rather Jesus is saying, You know the First commandment,and as for the other 612 t boils down to this, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ Which is precisely how we find it described in Leviticus, of all places . . . and in precisely that form

We heard a couple of verses from the beginning of Leviticus 19 – The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Or as St Paul puts it – be imitators of God as dearly loved children 🙂

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. I must admit I shudder when I hear that one – how is it possible in the world to day to make a profit apart from by the blood of our neighbours? You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

There it is – right at the end, summing it up – you shall love your neighbour as yourself . . . if we desire to know what it is to love our neighbour as our self, here we have plenty to go on – in Leviticus. Leviticus which is perhaps the book most concerned with the right worship of God – Right in the heart of what many think to be the most important chapter in that book ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself – I am the Lord’

When we hear these two commandments we can end up with a bit of a conundrum, as if we have to choose, and the choice seems to be a tricky one – for if you love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind – what is left for the neighbour? But the answer is given in that repetitive strain – ‘I am the Lord’ It is in the face of God – with our hearts and minds and souls set upon him, that we learn to love our neighbour as our self – Loving Him with all we are and thus knowing ourselves to be loved we are set free from our own concerns. Looking always to God, like the Psalmist, whose delight is in the Law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night, our lives bear the fruit of the Life of God whom we love . . .

The other day I was pondering how to express this in practise, this Loving God with all we have and are, and how it led us to the Love of neighbour as ourselves. For surely if we Love God in all and above all and through all, we shall love truly, and with Good discernment and judgement . . . After all, we have our mind on so many things . . . Loving God, Loving neighbours – as if God and Neighbour were different things in a world of things – and I was reminded of Magic Eye pictures. Do you remember them? [Here is one] Can anyone see the picture??

The trick, so I am told, because I have never been able to do it, is to focus BEHIND the picture. To bring your gaze to rest at a point beyond . . . in heaven you might say . . . and when you do that, Then the picture leaps into life.

Fixing our heart and mind and soul upon God – letting our gaze rest on Him – we then see the World in all its clarity – Resting our gaze on God, God’s image is now not just some useful slogan but something we truly discern – and I must say we genuinely do not merely ‘think of the world differently’ – because as modern people, this is what we think ( 🙂 ) it is all about, no we truly begin to See differently – we receive the world differently as we open our eyes and let them rest on God. it is the true meaning of the contemplative life, not to hole ourselves up but to learn to rest the gaze of our heart and soul and mind on God and then to use our strength as we truly encounter our neighbour . . .

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

The Fear of the Lord, the knowledge of the Holy One, the Love of the Father – all one and the same – all opening our eyes to The Real World

Well at that point people may well say, ‘but Eric, you said last week that this was all about Jesus!’

And it is . . . ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The Pharisees were afraid above all that Jesus had come to trash everything – after all he seemed to ignore the Sabbath – they were afraid that his coming would so stir the crowds that If we shall let Him alone like this, all will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and will take away both our place and nation. – that he had come to abolish the Law and the prophets – But Jesus says , ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. At the end of all the questions – Jesus finally draws their attention to the Whole Law, for He is the fulfillment of that Entire Law – Loving God utterly, only doing what he sees the Father doing – and doing for his neighbour what as he would want them to do for him, laying down his life for them – befriending them, neighbouring them.

And so once more he asks? Do you see? Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” . . . Whose Son is He? Do we see?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and mind, Love your neighbour as your own life . . . and we will See

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