Rabbi Hillel made this comment when asked which was the greatest commandment, “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary; go and learn it.” This quote was known in Jesus’ time and the question had been asked many times.
Which is the greatest commandment? Jesus’ first response is the opening statement in the Judaic liturgy: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Every Jewish child learned this verse first and these Pharisees knew this.
Jesus’ next words lined up more with what Hillel had said, “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The Message version [Eugene Peterson] states it this way: “Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”
Jesus is setting parameters: Love God with everything you have and love others as well as you love yourself. Jesus is throwing a lot of love around. He is assuming that we love ourselves so we can love others--so we can love God. It is a radical idea that loving others is just as important as loving God. God is so much bigger than anyone we could ever meet. God has done so much more for us than any person could ever do. Recognizing that serving others is the same as serving God can be a big leap. It is a constant message from Jesus--in his actions and his words. Fellow human beings deserve our respect and our help when they need it. How do we decide who needs our help?
Most of you know I am involved with a couple of organizations that provide services for survivors of sexual violence. I take on-call shifts for the local sexual assault resource center, which means I occasionally get called out to rape exams so I can advocate for a survivor by explaining and protecting her legal rights. I also provide emotional support during the exam and information about resources that are available. So far, most of the people have been strangers--it has not reduced my concern for them as fellow human beings. I only pray I can be the support they need at the time. In fact I have described myself as the “Magic Chameleon Woman”, because I have this ability to empty myself (called kenosis) so I can adapt to the situation at hand. It is that and more--it is also the ability to tap into my depths and find that part of myself that the person can best relate to. In those few hours I spend with the person, I am Magic Chameleon Woman. I chose this title for myself when each of us in a group was asked to name a super power we possessed.
Magic Chameleon Woman is a good thing for me because I am an extrovert and I can talk for hours about myself--about anything, really. But, it is good for me to blend into the background like a chameleon and make time and space for the people who are around me. Especially if someone has a desperate need to be heard.
When you are bursting with a story to tell--what you want is someone to listen. Loving someone enough to hear their story, to hear what they need, and then speak up for them--back them up so others hear them, too; well, that is what I would want for myself.
Those who are not heard, those who are silenced because no one can take time to listen, these are the people for whom I am filled with compassion. The elderly, the prisoner, the mentally ill, children, people without homes, anyone standing off by themselves in a crowded room--these are the people I want to hear. These are the people I want to love. Each is voiceless until someone listens to them.
This is why I am drawn to children. I am not particularly interested in teaching them. I am interested in creating safe places for them. In my home, here in our church, at the Children’s Advocacy Center when I go there, and at Camp Victory.
Each year when I return from Camp Victory, I feel wonderful. This group of phenomenal people create a place of healing, peace, love and safety for girls who have been sexually abused. It is also a safe place for the adults who volunteer there. Their ethic of respect for all people falls in line with the baptismal covenant: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” [BCP 1979] Camp Victory is a place of intentionality.
Jesus is advocating intentionality in how we deal with God and with other people. We are to love God with all we have and love others as ourselves. I do believe love is a choice--it is intentional. We can lose sight of that in our busy lives, sometimes in our self-love. We assume those who love us will continue to do so even if we are not intentional in loving them. We assume there are people who are completely unlovable--bad to the bone, so to speak. Yet, we can be intentional in finding something to love about them. They have nice hair-good taste in clothing-or unique taste, whatever.
Since God loves us all, and I assume you feel the same as me, I don’t always understand how God can love me. Since God loves us all, there must be something to love about each of us. If we are intentional about looking for that element in one another, we can love everyone we meet. If I am lovable, anyone can be lovable.
When I am at Camp Victory, I am intentional about being Magic Chameleon Woman. I never have my mind set on what I will be doing from one minute to the next. If I have a little buddy, I am doing what she wants to do or going where she wants to go. If I don’t have a little buddy, I am intentional about watching and looking for the needs of others. The whole time we are intentional about safety and well, having fun!
Sometimes we can be intentional about loving someone with no hope of anything in return except maybe a hand pressed against a bus window as a final good bye when the weekend is over. At the end of Camp Victory weekend, I can be Magic Chameleon Woman who runs next to the bus until it turns the corner. In real life, I don’t run anywhere. But, if I were a girl on that bus, I would want someone to love me enough to run alongside the bus until I was out of sight so I do it.
So let’s be intentional in how we live. Let’s choose to love others as we love ourselves. Let’s choose to love God with all that we have and with all that we are. “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor; …” Let’s peg these two commands at the edges of our lives and live entirely between them with intentionality.