Each week in church I hear the summary of the Law. This might look like recounting the 10 Commandments, but typically we hear the passage from Matthew 22:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Simply put: “Love God and Love Others.”
But how the heck do we actually do that? How do I participate in loving the humanity that is around me? To make my case, I shall use my incredible 14-month-old son, Noah.
Day in and day out I’m trying to encourage him to walk. (Other parents out there are screaming at me, “NOOOO!!! Crawling is so much easier to manage!) While it may be true that crawling is easier to manage, I simply cannot wait to go to the park across the street and see his little diaper butt waddle across the field and allow him to approach the playground and play where HE wants to play. At the moment I’m simply carrying him around and showing him where he is to play.
Walk to the swings, put him in the swings, swing. Walk to the slide, put him on the slide, he climbs the slide. Walk back to the swings, put him in the swings, swing. As entertaining as it is for him and myself, there is no choice on his part to swing, slide, or swing again. It’s one-sided participation. I know he can participate more fully.
So I take his arms, he stands, and we walkwalkwalkwalkwalk! (this actually what we say to encourage him every step he takes.) Each day he is more and more confident and takes further and further adventures from couch to chair to footstool to gate. Each day contains more progress. He sees other kids walk and is entranced, he sees Mommy and Daddy walk and is excited. He stands and takes a couple confident – yet wobbly – steps and down he goes with a diaper padding his fall.
Yet he still tries. And why? Because there is a tangible example of what walking looks like and he desires to participate in this activity.
Now, who we understand Jesus to be severely impacts our ability to follow his activity of loving God and loving others. Unfortunately, I often hear the commandment to “love God and love others” framed within the context that this how God wants us to live because that’s what heaven is going to be like. While I have no disagreements with the fact that heaven will redeem the world and we will be in perfect love with God and creation, I have major issues with simply framing Jesus’ greatest commandment as something that is only heaven facing.
Jesus came in such a way that contradicts this message and framing of the greatest commandment. The opening sentences of the Gospel of John make this clear, “The Word was with God and the Word was God…the Word was made flesh and dwelt among man…”
Jesus, the actual historical human, lived and breathed in an actual living and breathing culture. The historical references to the human Jesus are countless. And John helps to explain that Jesus was the Word (Logos) and that this Word actually dwelt with man. Completely divine, and completely human. One what, two who’s.
Jesus lived and breathed this example of perfect humanity to show us that perfect humanity was possible now. Yes, sin and evil make it incredibly difficult, but Jesus existed as the perfect human giving us a real example of what perfect humanity looked like. If Jesus were simply one what and one who (the Word without the flesh), we would not have the tangible, living, breathing example of what it looks like to love God and love others.
And then what would we look to? What would be left? We would forever be crawling around the world hoping to attain the only other example of what God deemed righteous…Noah and Enoch and those dudes. We’d have to grow beards and kill birds, and not eat meat, and….really we don’t know. Without Jesus we would have absolutely no idea how to fulfill this commandment of Loving God and Loving Others. We would simply see the commandment as a heavenly reality that nice to try on earth, but wasn’t really intended.
Thankfully the Word was made flesh. Thankfully we know what it looks like, we’ve heard the words of the living, breathing, actual human that lived the example of perfect humanity. We know how to love humanity because Jesus showed us how. Not because the only real love is in heaven and therefore we need to practice before we get there, but because humanity is living and breathing around us. Jesus desires that we participate in this humanity like he showed us how.
How do you love your neighbor? Do you know your neighbor exists? Do you know that Jesus existed in the world just as your neighbor did? The incredible thing is that Jesus also existed as God. So Jesus – commanding the world to Love God and Love Others – was simply saying, “Do as I do. Take my hand. Lets walkwalkwalkwalkwalk.”