Loving God, loving neighbor

Proper 25 (October 26, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Lev. 19:1-2, 15-18; Ps. 1; I Thess. 2:1-8; Matt. 22:34-46

This week we worked on job descriptions for new positions in Iraq, visited partners in northern Jordan and hosted Ann and Jim Hershberger from Linville, Virginia. What a delightful opportunity to share stories with former MCC reps from another part of the world!

An MCC partner in northern Jordan grows thyme as an income-generating project (photo by Melissa Engle)

In the region this week, the Iraqi government announced that Mosul has stabilized, after a spate of violence led to half of Mosul’s Christian community fleeing to surrounding areas. Also, U.S. and Iraqi officials have yet to reach an agreement on the terms for U.S. forces to stay in Iraq past December 2008.

The Common Lectionary readings this week describe the interplay between loving God and loving neighbor.

The Old Testament reading admonishes us not to hate or harm our neighbors, but to love them as ourselves (v.18). These instructions are not optional. Each command is followed by the phrase, “for I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:2,16,18).

The psalmist calls us to delight and meditate on God’s laws (Ps. 1:2) and to shun the advice of the wicked (v.1). Loving neighbor does not mean that we follow them when they make bad choices.

In the Epistle reading, Paul says that he lives “not to please mortals but to please God who tests our hearts” (I Thess. 2:4). But pleasing God is not an abstract or other-worldly past time. It means sharing our lives with others and treating them with gentleness (vv. 7-8).

In the Gospel reading, religious leaders ask Jesus “Which commandment is the greatest?” Without hesitation, Jesus responds, “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 (Matt. 22:37-39). Jesus builds an unbreakable bridge between loving God and loving neighbor.

These succinct words of Jesus still ring true 2000 years later. What a different world it would be if everyone learned to love God completely, and as an expression of that reality, learn to love neighbor as self! How might this change the way the United States makes decision about its relations with Iraq or Iran? How might it change the way people of different faiths relate to one another? The way Israelis and Palestinians relate? On a more personal level, how would it affect the way we invest our time and resources?

This coming week we travel to Turkey to listen to partners as part of MCC’s “New Wine, New Wineskins” process, which is designed to reshape MCC for the 21st century. We look forward to hearing the counsel of partners from across the Europe and Middle East region. We hope that, together, we will learn how to better love neighbor as self.

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