Grace and Peace to you.
Someone asked him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to them, ” “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.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
—Matthew 22. 36-40
There are two religions in the world, and every moment each of us is always choosing between them, sometimes waffling back and forth—but you can’t have both. One is the Religion of Being Right, in which there is a certain way in which we acquire life, certain rules we follow, and if we follow them correctly, we secure our survival. These rules may be the Ten Commandments or Shira law or common decency or the properties of crystals or the principles of investing, but the dynamic is the same: if you master the requirements, offer the right sacrifices, do the right thing, you are rewarded—and if not you suffer. In this religion, regardless of how loving God may be, the crux of our relationship with God is that we meet the demands that God makes of us. The highest value in this religion is to be right.
The other religion is the Religion of Being in Love. God doesn’t make demands, but offers blessing, unconditionally. God loves us without regard to our obedience or “worthiness”, and swept up by that love we love God and all Creation. God does desire certain things, but doesn’t withhold blessing dependent on our performance of those things. In this religion love is life, and so rather than seeking survival, power, security and esteem, we seek to live in love with God and all beings. Rather than trying to acquire life by our own effort or even our own faith, we receive it as a gift. There are commandments we follow and principles we observe, but the highest value in this religion is living in love.
You can’t serve both masters. If you really follow all the rules, sooner or later you’ll hurt someone. If you really love all beings, sooner or later you’ll break a rule. Jesus is clear on his choice of love. He often quotes God from Hosea 6.6: “I desire love, not burnt offerings.” The cross is where Jesus takes sides in the conflict between being right and being loving.
Sin, I think, is our instinct to be right, to be worthy, to get what we want, to deserve life, to position ourselves to survive as an individual (or even to risk our life as a way to make ourselves worthy). Love risks all this for another’s sake. To love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves, is to abandon every other motive.
This doesn’t mean to be a doormat. It doesn’t mean we don’t protect ourselves from abuse, try to accomplish things, maintain good boundaries, get angry and express it, or honor and take care of ourselves. It means that we do all these things in love. In fact, usually when we “give in” to another or surrender our boundaries or suffer injustice or abuse, it’s not not to love others, but to worship their idols: to follow what their religion says about our deserving or worthiness. Don’t fall for it. Follow your own religion.
Today notice when you are tempted to sacrifice being loving for being right: getting your way, winning your argument, proving your worthiness— rather than serving the other person in humble love. Open your heart to God’s love continually pouring through you, so that each moment might be your love song, your devoted prayer, your act of love for God and for all people, all beings, all Creation.