This day’s gospel is a well known story of an encounter during which Jesus is asked: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus reply is clear and unambiguous:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
As I have written many places in this blog, biblically “love” is not a hallmark card response of emotion. At its core, love is an act of the will apart from one’s feelings at any particular moment in time. It is the choice to act in that same moment in a way that is for the greater glory of God and human flourishing. I am not suggesting that is an easy task or what action is needed, necessary or good, but figuring it out is the first of all the commandments.
Take today for example. How will you carry out the great commandment on this day? How will you love among the joys and frustrations of this day? How will you love in the moments you have difficult decisions to make that will affect other’s lives and livelihood? How will you love in the midst of tough but necessary conversations? How will you love when you are tired? How will you love when you feel like you are trapped in an endlessly repeating loop in which love offered become love rejected?
Perhaps one way to consider all of this is to think about the choices – not the action we will take, but the more intrinsic choices we face: love or its opposite. What came to your mind as the opposite of love? I suspect most thought “hate” or a close synonym. Gandhi suggested that the opposite of love is fear.
If I was able to discern the basis of my choices in life, I wonder what choices would find their way into a column marked “love” and which one relegated to the one labeled “fear”? People make decisions out of fear. Fear has been around for millennia, and it’s what has helped to keep us safe from life-threatening situations and mortal enemies. `The wooly mammoths and tigers might not be an issue anymore, but we’re still pretty fearful – often without knowing it. And the truth is, much of what we fear today is scary, and many of our decisions are made from a place of fear. Why? Because we think it will keep us safe.
But safe from what exactly? From lots of things: pain, loneliness, disapproval, rejection, uncertainty, isolation, commitment, failure and sometimes even our successes. The list is long and includes safety in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms. But I think opposites attract and are bound together. I believe every moment of fear is accompanied by instances of love. Our desire for safety leads us to avoid fear, but it also leads us to miss out on opportunities of love.
Today is a good time to be mindful of the choices we will make. But also a good time to be mindful of the choices we have already made. There are patterns and habits about our choices that are likely quite revealing about the character we have formed over the years. I am heading out for long walk in a few minutes. I think I will consider the choices in my life – the big ones and the small ones – and reflect on what was fundamental to my choice: love or fear?
And then I will try to make choices today that are for the greater glory of God and human flourishing. I will try to choose love over fear. And tomorrow, try again. And the next day. And with the grace of God perhaps one day I will become the loving person God calls us all to be.