Jesus wasn’t satisfied with a ‘Shema’ kind of spirituality, a piety that made faithfulness into religiosity. Strikingly, as Scot McKnight (among others) has pointed out, Jesus adds the love your neighbor command to the traditional Jewish chant repeated every day (still today).
The Temptation of Devotion
Why? Isn’t loving God enough? Well, no, actually– depending on what you mean by loving God. Hirsch and Hirsch observe that
It has always been a temptation of religious people to see religion as purely devotion toward God. Jesus will not allow this. Discipleship in the way of Jesus must include the love of people”.1
This is why it strikes me as rather peculiar that even in missional material, discipleship practices often seem to have a ‘religious’ focus- Sunday services, memorizing Scripture, solitude, etc.
It’s not that we don’t do these things- we do. But surely a missional understanding of discipleship necessitates that these ‘love God’ practices take shape in, among, and with the neighborhood, and therefore, are consistently absorbed and integrated with ‘love your neighbor’ practices. Otherwise, are we not in danger of being pharisaical?
In contrast, The Jesus Creed moves us…
- from being so religious that we’re no earthly good;
- from a ‘follow the rules’ to a ‘follow Me’ faith;
- from ‘spiritual beliefs’ to Jesus’ activities- incarnating compassion, mercy, hospitality, peace and justice;
- from the love of law to the law of love
In fact, once we put on the Jesus Creed/great commandment (singular) lens, we begin to see that everything Jesus does and teaches illustrates this intention. We see that Jesus’ disciples his followers toward this shift in both His words and deeds throughout his ministry on earth.
Who Jesus Commends
Take for example the Good Samaritan. The religious are keeping the law, obeying the Torah, doing the religious, spiritual or right thing as they pass by. I suspect they even thought they were “loving God” with their response. Yet, the one whom Jesus commends is the Samaritan who breaks the religious law in order to keep the law of love for his neighbor!
In the stories of the Prodigal son, the woman caught in adultery, eating with tax collectors, touching lepers and so on, we observe again and again the contrast between the aghast religious folk, wanting to uphold the law and be religious, and Jesus practicing—and calling us to practice—the “law” of love.
Surprise, surprise, Jesus doesn’t care what position we hold in ‘the church’ or how many gold stars we got for memory verses. He cares about whether we love as He loves. Not just our neighbor but also our enemy. The other. Jesus doesn’t care how many stars we got for memory verses. He cares if we love as He loves. Click To Tweet
This shift in emphasis seems to resonate with our post-modern context in which grace and authenticity, not our titles or positions, ‘earn’ trust and respect; and in which relationships and community are understood as essential for nurturing not only social but personal well-being. Accordingly, McKnight asserts that “the Kingdom vision of Jesus is a Kingdom filled up with people who are noted by one word: love.”2
Oh, that our next door neighbors and the folks down the street– the politicians and the broadcasters– described followers of Jesus with one word, love.