For as frustratingly enigmatic as Jesus can be most of the time, there are moments in his ministry when he is abundantly, albeit challengingly, clear. Take, for example, the story of Jesus and the lawyer from Luke 10 that is appointed for this Sunday. In this familiar story that leads into the Parable of the Good Samaritan (more on that later this week), we see Jesus being challenged by a lawyer over just what is required to enter this Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus has been proclaiming. As usual, Jesus answers the question with one of his own; turning the revelatory work back on the one who is seeking. “You’re the expert in the Law, how do you read its requirements.” In Luke’s account, the Great Commandments don’t come directly from Jesus, but are given by the lawyer in response to Jesus’ prompting. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus, in perhaps his most transparent moment in all the Gospels, simply replies, “Do this, and you will live.”
Would that it were so easy just to love God, love our neighbor, and, as our Presiding Bishop is quick to remind us, love yourself. The Law of Christ is so very straightforward and yet, is impossibly simple. Loving God seems like the easiest option, so we’ll start there. The expert in the Law notes that loving God is not just something we that we feel, but it requires our whole humanity to do properly. We are called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength. Loving God in this way means putting God first on the priority list in our lives. It means giving God thanks in all things. It means offering God praise in all circumstances. It means showing God our admiration and respect no matter what is happening around us. Since our primary sin as humans is pride, we have a tendency to put ourselves in the place of God, especially when we fall short of that second commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself.” When we make judgments of our neighbors, we put ourselves in the place of God, thereby failing on both counts.
“Just do it” has been a pretty good slogan for Nike over the years, and it would behoove us as Christians to follow it in our daily walk to love God and love our neighbor, but for us, the ability to “just do it” requires one other piece. For Episcopalians, that piece, which offers the added benefit of keeping everything in the right order, can be found in the Baptismal Covenant, a series of eight questions that, for us, define the basics of the Christian faith. Each of the five questions that deal directly with how we will live as followers of Jesus is answered in the same way, “I will with God’s help.” Living into the Great Commandments is not something any of us can do on our own. In fact, the first step toward loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength is admitting that very fact. So, if I might be so bold as to add something to the words of Jesus, we might be better off hearing him tell the lawyer not simply, “just do it,” but “do it, with God’s help.”