Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
I love spring. Flowers bloom and the days get longer. The temperatures rise and there is this essence of change that flows over all of us. Change has been a theme for me in my life the last few months and one of the changes has been in how I care for myself. I have changed the way I eat and how I exercise. Yes, I know that neither the scripture nor the quote have nothing to do with either, but keep reading. I promise that I’m not going to go off on a meditation about food or getting off the couch.
One my favorite ways to exercise is to walk. If I could live in a village where I could walk to market and work and everywhere, I would live there forever. As soon as it got warm, I made a decision to start walking a few days a week if I could. At first, it wasn’t easy to convince myself that this was a good idea. I live close to a major thoroughfare and to go to the national park that is nearby, I have to cross that thoroughfare on foot. I also have to walk alone, which triggers all sorts of fears for me. The first day I tried this, it was sort of a lark. I walked to the neighborhood entrance. Then I walked to the corner to cross the thoroughfare. The signed beeped, and then I ran across all five lanes and made it to the other side! I walked three miles that day. Over the weeks since that day, I have continued to walk as much as I can. The more I do it, the easier it is to keep going. I have cleared nine miles in one walk and know that I can do more if I want.
I have had experiences with people who don’t understand my walking or how far I go. They say things like, “Wow! Nine miles? ! That would kill me!” My answer is a lot like the old saint’s answer, “Not if you just do it.” There was a time when I thought that sort of thing would kill me too, but, instead, it has made me stronger and feel excellent.
Jesus’s answer to the tricky, legalistic Sadducees is just as simple: Love God. Love All People. I am guilty of responding to this just like the people who respond to my long-distance walking: “Wow! Love God?! Love ALL people? That’s HARD!”
The real question is, “Why?” Why are these two commandments hard at all? What excuses do we make to not do those things? When people say, “That would kill me,” about walking so far, what they are really saying is that they have stuff in their head that says that they can’t. Maybe some of that stuff is reasonable. If you are suffering terminal illness (although I had a friend who ran marathons right up till two months before she died of terminal cancer—Cindy was amazing!), or you are just unable to walk, I get it. Sometimes, we have very unreasonable excuses though. My excuses have included things like not being very athletic, being too tired, being afraid of going alone, or just being afraid (which is the base truth of the matter).
When we say that these commandments are hard, we are also saying that because there is stuff that we hide behind to keep us from that love. In the end, many of the things that keep us from the commandments are fear based. We are afraid of loving God because we have learned about her as a construct instead of who she is beyond what others say about her. We are afraid of loving our neighbors (people…everyone) because we also see them as constructs and in ways we have been told to see these people. It is hard because we have to look past all of that, and sometimes those constructs have been built inside of us for a long time.
We have to come to the same place that I came to that first time I walked to the entrance of the neighborhood that first day I walked. I could have chosen to make it hard on myself and told myself that I couldn’t walk to the park. I could have made excuses. I could have chosen fear. It is the same with when we love. We can choose to not even try. We can tell ourselves that it is easier to not love God and to not love ALL people. Love is a choice, just like walking three miles to the national park is a choice. If we choose to not exercise, or not to love, then we will miss an important learning moment, and that is this:
“It is easy for those who do it.”
Once you choose to love, even once, the next time you choose to love, it will be easy. You will want to choose it again and push love farther. That push will allow you to do things like see people who are scary as people who need love too. It will allow you to see God in those people too.
I have two friends who inspire the heck out of me. One is an athlete. He hikes long distances (much farther than nine miles), and recently made it to the Georgia/North Carolina border of the Appalachian Trail. He has inspired me to not fear getting out and trying to push myself. The first day I walked, I text messaged him and asked how far I should go. I will never forget his answer, “Walk as far as you can, and then add a mile to it.” I think about this every time I walk now. He will never realize how much that advice stoked me on my exercise journey.
My other friend is a minister in Atlanta. She serves the homeless. She loves people who society has thrown out like so much garbage. She cares for the scary people. I see her work and her joy and her love and I want to love people like she loves them. Her ministry has taught me to serve my students better and to remember to love others even in their stark differences from my personal experiences.
“It’s easy for those who do it.”
The lesson here, in my mind, is in the “do it,” part of the quote. Do you want to love God? Then love God. Do you want to love people? Then love people. Make it a daily, hourly, moment-to-moment experience. Make it a conscious choice. Love is not an emotion. It’s not what you see in the movies. It is an action. It is a choice. It is an easy choice, if you just choose it.
Help us to see our excuses for what they are---fear in word form. Help us to see you as what you are—pure love. Help us to see our neighbors as what they are---people just like us who need love just like we need love. Help us see how easy loving you and others is if we just do it.
Jessica Nettles has been writing since she was eleven-years-old, and knew at that time that writing would be something she did for her lifetime. She has not become more than semi-famous, but that’s something that she has accepted. Her current projects include writing Southern gothic horror fiction, chapters for an upcoming interactive English textbook, and information gathering for several upcoming coloring books. Her past lives include being a Methodist minister’s wife, a Starbuck’s barista, a college and grad school student (with honors both times), and a clerk at Barnes and Noble. Despite her wide and varied experiences, she still has managed to grow a love of God and Biblical Studies. She currently lives within walking distance of a national battlefield, has two adult children who are definitely their own people (she’s not proud of them at all…), and two black cats. In her current life, she teaches English at a local technical college, and is looking fifty in the eye and daring it to cross the line into her life. We’ll see how that goes.