The law from Exodus is clear: do not take advantage of the stranger, the weak and the vulnerable. The law as summarized by Jesus is clear – love God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself. We might ask, “Well, what’s the problem? Just do it!” Well, that becomes the problem, the ‘just doing it’ part. Law is clearcut and offers a security of justification to the adherent. But, the love precept seems to have many jagged edges.
From the perspective of Matthew’s Gospel, the Pharisees did not seem to be looking for a scholarly debate on the law. They put forward one of their own, who was a scholar of the law, to test Jesus with a question about the greatest commandment. With over 600 precepts in the law, the choice of any one could lead to a lively discussion. Some of these commands were considered weightier than others. A true scholar would surely choose from the weightier side. However, Jesus was not known to do the predictable in these situations. He chose two commandments – a weightier one from Dt. 6:5 about loving God and a lighter one from Lv.19:18b about loving neighbor. These two he places together with equal weight, and melds them as one.
In the debate it’s a clear victory for Jesus. Then we realize this is not about points scored in a debate This is a new precept for us. If all the law and the prophets hang on this, so also do all we hold, teach, live and practice ever since.
There is a grieving family in Dallas. They have lost a loved one to the ebola virus. They have gone through the required quarantine and have been cleared. However, they are finding closed doors when they try to find a new place to live. They are even being blamed in some circles for being the cause of the disease reaching that city. Pastors of churches have to plead with people to reach out and welcome this grieving family. On these two commandments hang everything we do.
Perhaps the recent synod on family gave us a public example of the constant struggle of pitting love against law. In the light of this commandment of Jesus, it would seem to be what they call a ‘no-brainer’ which choice to make. For Jesus, this wasn’t just a command. It was the way he lived. Love of God and people, especially those in need, always superceded the law. Isn’t it amazing how we who think of ourselves as his followers fall back so easily into the security of law, neglecting the weightier matter of love.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP