Monday, November 7, 2011

My Thoughts on the Greatest Commandments

I woke up this morning oddly thinking about the Greatest Commandments which for those who don't know their Bibles (myself included, I had to Google it) is found in Matthew 22:36-40.

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'
40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

(I know I've used this picture in a recent post, but I just love it to bits. You can get the t-shirt here, now for only $12. Argh, I should have waited.)

The first thing I do whenever I read a passage from a sacred text is remember that these words were written in a different time and place. These words carried different weight and meaning back in 1st century Palestine than 21st century America. Regardless I am aware that these two commandments are references to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) and to a reference to an Old Testament Law (Leviticus 19:18) Jesus was once again using to pull the rug from under his debater's feet. He took something his audience was familiar with and turned it upside down and inside out to make a point. How his message(s) were read depends on us the reader. Once we read, think, or write about it, the meaning changes. There are timeless truths in the Bible but I don't believe the Bible itself IS a timeless truth. If the Bible were a timeless unchanging truth our legal system, culture, heck even our grocery stores would be completely alien.

This passage reads differently for me than it would to a Southern Baptist Christian (my favorite example of Christianity because I live in Southern Baptist country, gimme that ol' time religion!), not because I want it to be different to fit my worldview but because I speak in a different language than a Southern Baptist. The words carry different meaning in my language.

To me the first commandment reads:
  • Open your heart, make yourself vulnerable to Reality with every ounce of your being, and by opening your heart you struggle lessens in shared suffering. No one has to suffer or enjoy bliss alone. 
  • Be open-minded to what you can discover about Reality, you don't have to believe in magic there are enough wonders in the universe for humanity to unravel, experience, and explore.
  • Open your soul to Reality by understanding and embracing your individual uniqueness. You are a unique cosmic phenomenon, the universe never has nor will ever see the likes of you again.
The Second commandment reads like the first:
  • By opening your heart, mind and soul to the wondrous and beautiful reality we live in we understand that we are connected to one another. We don't have to live life as if we are completely separate and isolated beings, but connection to one another and to the universe makes us vulnerable, which, in my humble opinion, scares the shit out of us. We're all scared even though we try to hide that fear behind beliefs and faith (faith in general, not just religious faith). By understanding that we all (yes, that includes homosexuals and Muslims) are connected to one another we can empathize with our neighbor no matter how strange their beliefs and culture may seem on the surface. And through understanding and empathy blossoms the opportunity for love and beauty.
I know I might sound overly optimistic and slightly ignorant of how the real world works, and you might be right. I admit I'm a fairly open-minded person but I'm not going as far as saying that holding hands with your neighbor and singing "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles will make war and poverty go away. I'm just saying that by understanding our interconnectedness to each other, to the universe, we may begin to minutely understand how our personal actions and beliefs may affect our neighbor. I believe that even a tiny bit of understanding and empathy can go a long way.


Don said...

I, like you, believe in that vast interconnectedness of all. My view of God, of course, is as inadequate as any other human being on the planet. It is beyond man's feeble ability to describe, yet we continue to try to do so.. If it was ever proven that this " greatest commandment" was never uttered by Jesus, it wouldn't affect me in the
East. It is simply a good way to deal with our fellow humans.

captron52 said...

Great post Sam! You said the exact same things I would have if asked to. Well maybe not exactly but I sure believe you hit the nail on the head. And I agree with Don that none of us humans really have the authority to say we "KNOW" God perfectly. After all we are using a finite mind to try and understand and describe anything that is Infinite. No matter what I still believe we as a human family can learn to live life in peace if we all would just try living by the golden rule. Terrific post Sam!

Doug B said...

Yes, perhaps a bit overly optimistic. But so what? I like the gist of your thinking here.

tildeb said...

At the risk of sounding trite, a basic understanding of biology produces this knowledge that, through evolution, you and I are both unique yet connected, as is Doug, as we are to any gay or muslim or broccoli or tit mouse. Once one appreciates what it actually means that every scrap of life present, past and future on this planet is directly connected, then the marvel and awe of nature is front and centre for our awareness.

Eruesso said...


Couldn't have said it better myself! Sadly I know plenty of people with more than just a basic understanding of biology that can not (or possibly will not) come face to face with what our interconnectedness means, let alone appreciate it. Thanks for your thoughts.

Ahab said...

Beautiful post. Many of us flee from reality because it can be painful or confusing, but we must face it honestly and embrace it. As you wrote, we must empathize with the suffering and job of others.

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