Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.
This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The ones for this chapter are: Luke 10:25-37; Mark 12:28-34.
This chapter turns to the parable of the good Samaritan to illustrate its central point. I liked this statement. “Jesus tells parables that catch his readers in the web of a moral dilemma so they can learn.” This parable starts because an “expert in the Torah” asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the Torah says, and the man responds with both love God and love others. He had already grasped part of the Jesus Creed.
But then he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” McKnight points out that he’s really asking ‘who is pure and who is not?’ What’s the classification system? Who is to be loved?
And in the parable, it’s important to realize that the priest and Levite followed the letter of the Torah. They were not supposed to come in contact with a dead body, not even allowing their shadow to fall over it, or they would become impure and unable to fulfill their duties. That’s why they went to the other side of the road. It was not out of heartlessness, but out of obedience to their understanding of Torah. However, it illustrates a great irony. By ‘obeying’ Torah, the priest and Levite actually disobey what lies at the heart of Torah; loving others.
It’s the stereotyped outcast — the one who would have been considered an enemy — who actually does the right thing. Jesus’ answer to the potential conflict of ‘love-of-God-as-obeying-Torah’ versus ‘love-of-God-as-following-Jesus’ is clear: “Loving God properly always means that we will tend to those in need.”
Now Jesus is not against the Torah. Rather, he is against any reading of the Torah that does not encompass love God and love others. That is the spirit of Torah, however you interpret the letter of Torah. Jesus reshapes the question from ‘Who is my neighbor?’ to ‘To whom can you be neighborly?’ Don’t we all often fall on the wrong side of that distinction? We tend to look down on the priest and the Levite, but are we really any different?
Neighborly love begins in our home. From the way some people act, this idea might be a shocker, but those in our family are also our neighbor. And it’s also a ‘whenever love and whereever love’. It’s not a question of whether or not the person “deserves” your love. As in our love for God, it’s only a sacred love for others if it is without qualifications.
“Neighborly love is moral love.” That’s an interesting statement. We are not called to ‘tolerance’. “Toleration condescends; love honors.” McKnight notes that in quoting Leviticus to establish his ‘love others’ addition to the Shema, Jesus is using its moral framework. Respect parents. Honor your word. Care for the physically challenged. Seek justice for the powerless. Live in sexual purity. Show love for your enemies. And a whole lot more.