“When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
It’s easy to think about “the law” as simply a bunch of rules. Or a moral code. Or a laundry list of dos and don’ts. Worse, we often experience the law as something that is at best rather negative and at worse fairly threatening. (That goes along, I think, with our generic picture of God as a rule-enforcer who sits up in the sky making sure nobody has too much fun, but that’s for another time.) And when you read a list of laws – be it the Ten Commandments or one of the numerous tables of laws in Leviticus or some other place – that rather negative impression is only reinforced.
But take note: when Jesus is asked which of the more than 600 laws in the Bible is the most important, he boils them all down to two – and each of these is not about behavior but about relationships. In particular, Jesus lifts up our relationships with God and each other. Actually, by connecting them, I think Jesus says you can’t really be in a right relationship with God without being in a right relationship with your neighbor. In short, you can’t love God unless you love your neighbor.
Further, and quite interestingly, it also sounds like you can’t love your neighbor unless you also love yourself. That is, when you have a healthy sense of your own worth and dignity, you can then more easily treat others as deserving of dignity and respect as well. And when you do so, you love God.
That sometimes sounds odd to people who imagine God primarily as a king or ruler. Don’t rulers want our devotion, loyalty, and praise? But if you think about God more as a parent, everything changes. I could care less whether my children praise me – the very notion seems odd – but I do care, deeply and passionately, about how my children treat each other.
So that’s the law – God’s parental love expressed for us by giving us rules by which we best care for each other as God’s beloved children and our siblings in Christ and in this way honor and love God.