But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “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. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 ESV)
Whenever I start thinking about the Law my mind first goes to Leviticus and Deuteronomy and Moses and the desert. I think to myself, “How is a person supposed to do all that stuff, especially today?” The short answer is, I’m not. First of all, I am what the Bible refers to as a gentile. The simple definition of gentile is some one who, like me, is not a Jew.
I could say (rightly) that being a gentile means that I am not bound by the Law. That provides me with a sense of freedom. On the other hand I would be wrong to consider this a freedom to do what I want. It is in reality a freedom to do what God wants. The best analogy I can come up with comes from my classroom. Every year we have to establish the rules of the classroom. One of the things I do is to hold up a school rule book and ask the class if we should read the whole thing. No one EVER wants to do that. So, I bring up two simple rules that every one can follow:
All the rules in the school manual fall in those two categories. Simple, to the point, and followable. Guess how many discipline issues I generally have in a given year. The funny thing is, there’s no wiggle room. There’s no way for a student to say, “That’s not against the rules!” There are no rules. OK, there are two, but you get what I mean. The kids know whether what they are saying or doing is nice or hurtful and so does everyone else in the room. The students end up policing themselves and all I have to do is become the final arbiter when needed. That is the third rule, I’m the boss.
The Law is like that student/school handbook. But the Law is contained in a number of books and takes great effort and concentration to follow. Enter Jesus who sums things up so beautifully. “Love God with all you are,” (paraphrase) “and your neighbor as yourself.” And then He ends with the clincher, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
When I said that Jesus “sums things up…” I didn’t mean that He summarizes the Law. I meant that He “cuts to the chase” of God’s Will. These two commandments are the gist of all the Law and the Prophets. Everything in them is designed to focus a person’s attention either upon God or upon other people. Simply read the Ten Commandments that started it all and you’ll see what I mean. Each is about God or others. Then Jesus removes the wiggle room. Following God isn’t really about the particulars as much as focusing one’s self totally upon God. And not for one’s self, but for others. It’s that simple. Which isn’t the same as saying that it’s easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
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