Despite years of listening to sermons, reading spiritual texts, learning prayer practices, and attending retreats, I still manage now and then to mire myself in anxiety, confusion, guilt, shame, and restlessness. When that happens, I find great comfort in Jesus’ clear, challenging answer to the Pharisees who asked him to identify the greatest commandment. Comfort may seem an odd word here: Jesus appears to be answering a straightforward question about the law by quoting the first two commandments given to Moses. But I’ve come to see that those two “laws” are not merely laws; they are much more complex, challenging, and liberating.
Jesus’ interrogators want law, but he gives them love without which all laws become either meaningless or dangerous. The implications of his reminder—that love is the first and greatest commandment—disrupt their governing misapprehension that the law is what saves us. Love trumps law, Jesus insists. It doesn’t discount it, but it overrules it. Where law divides, love unites. Where law assigns priority, love equalizes. Where law excludes, love includes. Where law mires in argument, love fosters gratitude and generous discernment. Where the law leads to guilt, shame, and judgment of self and others, love leads to forgiveness and repentance—relational and rooted in trust.
I am comforted by Jesus’ clarity about the primacy of love over law because it allows me to look at the harm I’ve done, my failures of faith, my own versions of the seven deadly sins with compassion. Freed from debilitating self-judgment, I can return to gratitude and trust, receive grace, and even find my way to an appreciation of the rich guidance the commandments offer. I find myself joining with the psalmist in his surprising and exuberant cry: “Oh, how I love your law!” (Ps. 119:97).
God of love, release me from the letter that kills and help me to dwell trustingly in the Spirit who gives life. Amen.
The end of Deuteronomy completes the story of the life of Moses. Although he led the people out of Egypt, he is not allowed to enter the Promised Land because he lost his temper in the desert. The difficult task of leading the people back to the land will fall to Joshua. The psalmist calls out to God for mercy because the people have been suffering as a result of their disobedience. Paul defends himself against the charge that he has been preaching out of a desire for fame or money. The approval he seeks comes only from God. Jesus has yet another confrontation with religious leaders attempting to trick him. He avoids their schemes and emphasizes that love of God and love of neighbor summarize the entire law.
Read Deuteronomy 34:1-12. When has a leadership transition in your faith community been difficult for you? When has it been sacred?
Read Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17. How do you make God your dwelling place?
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8. How can you strive to love those whom you have never met? How can you meet new people with love as siblings?
Read Matthew 22:34-46. How do you wrestle with the Bible? When have your questions strengthened your faith or revealed something new?
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