The Two Greatest Commandments

While trolling the internet, I came upon a rather pedestrian claim that in the coming election the liberals will try to “get God” as a way to convince Americans that there are issues more important than ending abortion and stopping gay marriage.

The claim is profoundly absurd, not least of all because by now most Americans are probably convinced that the “war on terror,” or at least Iraq, is more important than most any domestic policy issue. Further, any concern about domestic policy probably begins with a desire to assure–through many possible means–that Americans can afford health care.

The BibleBut as I was composing an answer that would be as close to flame-worthy as possible without actually burning me–a rather difficult task, but one I felt morally obligated to take on–I remembered something from Sunday School. The Two Greatest Commandments–which I’m sure some conservative pundits will be impressed to know, are not “Don’t allow women to have abortions” and “Don’t allow gays to have state-sanctioned marriages”–seemed to me to be one of the many important parts of Christianity that the vast majority of pundits are vainly hoping Christian Americans will forget.

The two greatest commandments, to the befuddlement of my eight-year-old self, are not among the Ten. They were not given to Moses, but come directly from Jesus. I’ve forgotten the exact circumstance in which this occurs, but here’s Matthew 22: 34-40 (NIV):

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Shocking indeed. Conclusive proof that if Jesus was not a liberal (which some argue “Love your neighbor as yourself” suggests), his chief concerns were at least larger than gay marriage and abortion.

And though someone will probably claim that this text is also a compelling argument for the establishment of a church that will become the government’s moral compass, I think the vast majority of this country knows that is unwise.

The two commandments are instead a reminder that all the parts of the Bible which are presently emphasized are less important than love for God and your fellow man. That love, not condemnation, was Jesus’ central message. That politicians claiming to represent a “Christian right” don’t recognize that fact, perhaps even willfully ignore that fact, should be a source of embarrassment and not a point of pride.

13 responses to “The Two Greatest Commandments”

  1. Confusing what counts as Christian these days, isn’t it? Of course, in the original Greek, it might have been “Love your straight neighbor as yourself, but make sure your gay neighbor can’t get married.” Damn translators!

  2. I wish more people would take Matthew 22: 34-40 to heart. It’s been ages since I’ve read it myself, and I thank you for the reminder.

  3. It seems to be a paradox to many Christians: Standing up for Biblical principals through actions that convey love. Sometimes I think we need a little less talk radio and a few more conversations and glasses of lemonade with people different than ourselves.

  4. As always, you so adequately communicate an issue that I’m left speechless. Seriously. I agree with the others who posted comments. I don’t know what to write, my eyes are filling with tears. Great reminder. Thank you.

  5. Wow. Thank you. If I’m totally honest- I know that Matt 22:34-41 is REALLY how I want to live my life. But I mess it up practically every day. I needed this reminder. Thank you.

  6. I thank you as well for this reminder. Its so easy to get wrapped up in the platforms and issues, but when it boils down LOVE does beat them all. Thanks again!!!

  7. Very impressed, I could not agree more. Although I agree that there are issues in this world that should be looked at and called out. I think maybe as Christians we should get the two most important commandments right and then move on to figure out the rest of them and how to handle things. Thank you for this post it is most certainly very inspirational.

  8. Jesus came to fulfill the law, which in a nutshell, is to be a living, breathing conduit of love. Christianity cannot be captured by one or two moral issues on either side of the the fence. Didn’t Jesus come to get our eyes off of good/bad, right/wrong because no one can ever be good enough in his own strength. Salvation is knowing Christ, and Him crucified, and then the issues just don’t really matter that much. True love for self and others can only issue out of the secret place where we abide with Him, the true vine, and us, the branches.

  9. As an adherent to a Buddhist philosophy, I can still applaud and heartily embrace Jesus’ commandment to ‘love thy neighbor…’. Practicing positivity and mindfulness everyday brings personal as well as societal rewards. When I can balance that out with a healthy dose of humor, the joys are endless! A very nice post that can speak to everyone – religion or no religion.

  10. i dont think you guys could be any more right. as a christian involved in my school’s gay straight alliance, ive been waiting for someone to say something like that ever since i got saved. im showing this to everyone. god bless you all.