A pharisee once asked Jesus which commandment is the greatest.
Jesus said, “‘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 foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself'” (Matthew 22:36-39, NASB).
Notice that in this literal translation, Jesus doesn’t say “should,” guilting us into a proper disposition. He isn’t telling us to just do it, which is different than how it reads in the New International Version. There the verb is translated as an imperative or command: Love God; love neighbour.
But Pastor Peter Hiett points out that the actual word Jesus uses is shall.
I was curious, so I looked up the Greek, the language in which the New Testament was originally written. He’s right. Jesus doesn’t use the imperative but the future active indicative form of the verb “to be”–commonly translated “you will.” To be fair to the NIV translators, this form of the verb was sometimes used as an imperative.
But what if loving was never meant to be something we were ordered to do? Perhaps it’s more like God’s command, “Let there be light” and then it happened. Could loving God and loving our neighbour be something God is already doing in us? What if, as Hiett suggests, it’s the unfolding of the story God’s writing in our lives.
Novelist and preacher, Frederick Buechner writes:
The final secret, I think, is this: that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last . . . And, loving him, we will come at last to love each other too. . . .
When I read this, I am overwhelmed with relief. Like everything else in the Christian life, what we need is given. God is already on it.
The Author of my life moves the plot along in every chapter. I saw it when our grandson tenderly stroked Fred’s arm after he’d eaten hot wasabi. I felt it when I heard the heartbreak of another being shut down and dismissed. I tasted it in a home-cooked meal.
As I notice God’s loving action in my life, I become more aware of when my actions fall short. I feel like I’m regressing. But once I get over my embarrassment, I can see forward movement. This awareness is a gift: I’m no longer blind to the way my behaviour affects others and can ask for the grace to do things differently next time.
God is writing a beautiful story with our lives.
There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.–Philippians 1:6 (MSG)
Questions for your Lenten pilgrimage:
- What has your attention lately?
- How might God be in the middle of it opening you to love?
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Love Mischief for the World
St. Stephen the Martyr Anglican Church in Burnaby is teaming up with Progressive Housing Society to bring the Mobile Outreach Van back to the Lougheed Mall area. The van will be parked at the church parking lot one day a week. Those in the area who are homeless or at risk of homelessness will be able to receive the support needed to get housing or employment as well as food and clothing. I’m so proud of my church. (I’m in the second row, third from the right)
What love mischief are you and God doing to care for the earth?
Let me know and I will include it in an upcoming post.