11/4/12, The Gospel in a Word

Deut. 6:2-6, Heb. 7, 23-28, Mark 12:28-34

A number of us have been sharing a study series called “Saving Jesus.”  This week we learned  that in order to understand this man Jesus and his teachings, we need to keep always in mind that Jesus was thoroughly Jewish.  He spoke and acted out of a cultural and religious Jewish worldview.

 An excellent example of this is set before us in the gospel reading that we have today.  A Jewish religious scholar comes up to Jesus and asks him which is the greatest commandment in the law.  Just as many of you would still be able to recite answers from your Baltimore catechism training, Jesus spontaneously recited what is known to all Jews as the shema. This basic teaching on the Law comes from Deuteronomy  chapter 6, just after Moses gives the set of 10 commandments to the Israelites.    Faithful Jews are required to repeat this shema twice a day, morning and evening. It is posted on their doors (Mezuzah) and some even wear it in little boxes attached to their bodies (phylacteries). It is the basic law of Jewish faith.

 So Jesus replied, "This is the foremost commandment: 'Hear, 0 Israel, God, our God, is one. You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You must love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." The scholar said to Jesus, 'Well spoken, Teacher! What you have said is true: the Most High is one and there is no other. To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself - this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice." Jesus, seeing how wisely this scholar had spoken, said, ''You are not far from the kin-dom of God." 

Classic world religious wisdom all teaches this same principle: the gospel in a word is LOVE.   You may have noticed that cycling before your eyes before we began was a recitation of how the world religions have cited this law.  It seems to be a universal understanding of basic truth, doesn’t it?  The gospel- the “good news”- in a word is LOVE.

Love in the concept of Hebrew law is "Ahava.” This is how the religious scholar would have understood it, how Jesus would have understood it.  This is, therefore, how we are meant to understand it today.  The meaning of “ahava” , understood as love, is "I give.”

Love is not primarily an intellectual concept, nor is it primarily an emotion. Knowing and feeling may result when we love, but primarily love is the action of giving. Giving initiates and makes lasting the connection between the giver and the receiver.  A classic human example is the giving between a husband and wife in a healthy marriage. Each one gives to the other. The more giving that one does, the greater is the connection. Giving is the condition that creates and sustains love.

Meaningful relationships require this self-giving attitude of offering to another something that could have been used to further one’s own advancement or comfort.  The giving may be physical, emotional, intellectual or a combination. That is the secret of love that is revealed in the Hebrew language from which Jesus spoke and out of which he acted.  He tells the religious scholar, even as he tells us today, that when we understand and live from this principle of self-giving, we are not far from the Kin-dom of God.


What’s a practical way for us to understand this concept?  I often think of how Jesus said, “Unless you become as a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”   What is love from a kid’s point of view?   

     a."When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love."
b. "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth."
c. "Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is okay."
d. "Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
e. "Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well."
f. "Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."
g. "You really shouldn’t say ’I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget."

Most of us here in this room have experienced the love of God not only because we have been taught it intellectually, but because God has loved us through others. Human beings are the hands and feet and heart and voice of God to one another. As we mature in our spirituality, we are to become the love of God to our fellow human beings. God invites us to strengthen the relationship we have known with him/her through the very practical means of becoming givers to others. 

This is what Jesus did during his time on earth.  His relationship with God became deeper and deeper as he gave of himself to others, literally to the point of a physical death.  In the end, that love was so strong that he could say, “Not my will but yours be done.”  We may not be asked go to this extent of giving ourselves in death, but can you see that it is in the giving of yourself to children, to spouse, to friends that you ultimately make a deeper connection to God?  Many of you have also experienced the deep delight of serving those who have nothing to give in return.  When we acknowledge the presence of God in those who are most needy, and we give of ourselves to them, there is a deep satisfaction and sense of closeness to God that results. We are loving God when we love God’s presence in all people and all creation.

In a practical sense, then, to love God is simply to take action for that which is good and true. It means the setting aside of our human desire to be comfortable or successful, to control or dominate. lt means putting ourselves into service and using ourselves up for others.

The gospel in one word really is love. We must not love with words only, but with actions and in truth. We must be courageous in our love: courageous to speak truth to oppression and injustice as Jesus did, and courageous enough to put this truth into action in our day to day lives.

By Sandi DeMaster