28 One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?” 29-31 Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”
I especially appreciate the way this is translated in the MSG version: “love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.”
Passion: What gives me energy? What gets me excited? What am I intrinsically motivated to do because I love those things? Where do I feel pathos and emotion? Can I love God with my passions? With the projects and vocations and ministries that I feel called to work in? Can I love God with pathos and emotion?
Prayer: Can I love God through resting in God’s unitive consciousness? Through contemplative prayer practices?
Intelligence: God gave us brains and expects us to use them. Can I use my intellectual skills and talents to do the hard thinking of theology and how it can be applied to modern problems, both public and private? Can I blend my reason with my emotion to better come to an understanding of the nature of God?
Energy: with the work of my hands and feet, can I engage in projects and activities that demonstrate my love for God through my service to others (as well as self-care for myself)?
32-33 The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”
“Why, that’s better than all the offerings and sacrifices put together!” As I understand Hebrew worship practices in the time of Jesus, “offerings and sacrifices” is was the religious and cultural equivalent of what Christians today refer to as stewardship tithes, sacraments, and/or ordinances performed in our churches and by our ordained clergypersons.
Here, the scholar said that loving God and others is better than all of the institutional religious tithes, sacraments, ordinances, etc. put together. That this pure love is more important than anything that happens in terms of rituals, ceremonies, or institutions.
34 When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.”
To me, this sums up an important characteristic of the Kingdom. Churches and religions are important because they can help us develop that love for God and others that Jesus taught about, but it is so very easy to turn religions and churches into idols, missing the mark and thinking that they are ends in and of themselves. But this is not so. Churches, religions, tithes, sacraments, etc. are important inasmuch as they help us develop that divine love. The minute they become more of a stumbling block and a hindrance, they are no longer useful and deserve neither our time nor energy (except, perhaps, to act prophetically to help bring them back to their true purposes).
When we begin to see that our religions, along with their ceremonies, traditions, stories, priesthoods, scriptures, etc. are merely a vehicle to God and God’s love, to use with love and wisdom in our goals of seeking God and God’s love toward others, we begin to arrive “right on the border of God’s kingdom.”