You will recognize the story from the beginning of the service as being almost the same as one told in Matthew 22:
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Except that Jesus put some God into it, which makes Jesus better right? Not so fast.
You have heard it read, from the Book of Leviticus, in the very heart of the Torah, in the very heart of the Law, in the very heart of the establishment of the presence of God with the people of Israel: Love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
Those two things cannot be separate. The people of Israel will love their neighbours because they are the people of God. They will continue to be the people of God if they don’t love their neighbour, BUT their connection to God is through these teachings, this Torah, at the heart of which is Love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord. It’s kind of like first you breathe in and then you breathe out: you can hold your breath for a while but eventually you’ll start breathing again.
Now loving our neighbour – individually or collectively – is as Jesus pointed out not very hard and very hard. Because our neighbours can be annoying or spiteful or ignorant or any number of things that make them hard to love.
So we can love most of our neighbours most of the time but accept our imperfection in not loving some of our neighbours when there is good reason not to, right?
Of course. But. The instruction to love our neighbour as ourself is right there in the middle of the center chapter of the center book of the books of God’s Teachings. It is in a chapter crammed with rules for worship, for relationships, for business practices, for animal husbandry, for farming, for courts of law, for respecting the elderly, for dealing with migrants and immigrants, as well as rules against shaming or harming others, and adopting foreign religious practices.
All punctuated with “I am the Lord.”
The instruction to love our neighbour is right there in the middle of all the messy, everyday things of life, all the little things that can tempt us to fudge the edges and maybe love ourselves and the people it’s easy to get along with a little bit more.
But “I am the Lord” says God and I love you even when you dump me for golden calves or cheat a little on your taxes or sass your mother or embarrass someone else or hold onto a grudge. So you can love your neighbour or friend or co-worker who doesn’t always seem respectful or parks in your parking spot or butts in front of you in line or doesn’t get stuff done on time.
And if you want a shortcut to doing that, pretend when that person doesn’t have their stuff ready or cuts you off in traffic or gets into your lane at the pool, pretend that they’re doing the best they can. Because maybe they are. Maybe they were up all night with a sick child or hot flashes or anxiety about money. Maybe they got a text that the dog was throwing up or the child or they’re hoping that the very important thing they forgot is easy to find – but it’s not.
And maybe they are just a self-centered jerk. But I lose nothing but pretending that they aren’t and I’m probably more right this way. I’m certainly more loving.
It doesn’t mean being taken advantage of. To say “this is the wrong change” is not to accuse someone of stealing. It’s just to acknowledge that a mistake has been made. We do that sometimes.
It means trying to support, not judge. It means taking the risk of trusting. It might mean accepting that their ways are different from our ways – but still perfectly valid and worthwhile.
You may have already spotted the snag in all of this. We are to love our neighbours as ourselves. And that -shockingly – could mean assuming that we are doing the best we can right now. It might mean accepting that we make mistakes. It might we trust ourselves. It might mean doing things differently and not judging ourselves. It might mean a lot of things that are not the way we’re used to.
And in all of that it most definitely means remembering that this is a part of holiness. This is integral to being the people of God, a God in whose image we are made.
And as Dorothy Day put it:
If each of us could just remember that we are all created in the image of God, then we would naturally want to love more.
Our neighbours as ourselves. Because we’re all doing the best we can.
February 23, 2020
Rev. Shannon Tennant