Last Sunday in every part of the world many who gathered for worship heard these words from the Gospel of Mark, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…mind and strength.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself…,” as if everyone in every place and in every circumstance was your own family and friends. This command of Jesus to all who claim to follow him echoes through a world where love of neighbor is seen and sadly felt as too risky, or “idealistic.” But the command is still proclaimed as the condition for true faith in God.
Do you want to love God with your whole heart and with your whole soul, and with all your strength? Then love your neighbor — the neighbor you know and the many you do not know. Then, and only then, will you truly know and love God!
But “love” is not easy. Loving even family sometimes demands a great deal of us. It can be frustrating and difficult, but also heart-warming, beautiful and life changing. The memory of so many loved ones who have gone before us confirms that truth.
Love is what life means and it is always the labor — the work — of living. Love is always stronger than hate, truer than fear, more hopeful than judgement.
Love, though is not just a feeling, not just an attraction. The love Jesus commands is about concrete actions — loving deeds toward the other, toward every neighbor even those who are “strangers.”
Jesus does not command us to feel warmly toward one another; rather he mandates us to treat the other with loving kindness, sure justice and an open heart and mind. His love commands that we listen to the stories so many neighbors long to tell; that we search for truth, abandon lies and embrace most particularly the lost and forgotten, the poor and the lame, the struggling and the outcast and those who, like our ancestors, still seek a land “flowing with milk and honey.” True followers of Christ hear their cry, witness their struggle and choose to accompany them, listening to their stories and embracing them as neighbors on the way who are “strangers no longer.”
Christ commands that we speak loving words of compassion and mercy, words of kindness and truth; justice and peace — words which must become true in the ways we act, in the attitudes we embrace and the welcome we extend.
Such speech and ways of acting reveal the loving word of God and the hopeful ways of living.
Words and deeds like that reflect the love of God with heart, strength and mind; words like that do not divide but bring neighbors together. Deeds like that change the human spirit and transform human living. Such speech changes our heart and the heart of the many. What we say is who we are. Who we are is what we do.
Jesus does not give hard and fast answers for prioritizing loving deeds in daily circumstances but he does show that the prime command in every circumstance is to love God and to love neighbor — every neighbor. That kind of love is all that is needed to make day-to-day choices.
Loving words are challenging during these days of so many words and deeds of hate, blame, violence, fear and division. But they are words from God spoken to us, in this time and place, in these days: Words which break through all the words and all the noise: “Hear, my people! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Every neighbor.
TAKE TO HEART THESE WORDS, WHICH TODAY WE HAVE ALL HEARD!