In Judaism there was a double tendency. There was a tendency to expand the law into hundreds and thousands of rules and regulations. But there was also the tendency to gather up the law in one sentence, one general statement which would be a compendium of the whole message.
Consequently, when Jesus put the law into a very brief statement it would have been welcomed by the Rabbinic leaders. But there were two key differences in Jesus’ response as to what is the most important commandment.
The first, when Jesus says you shall love your neighbor as yourself, He includes the gentiles as well as one’s fellow Jews. He gave the law new meaning.
The second thing that Jesus did was that He put the two commandments together and made them one. Religion was loving God and loving man. The way we show that we love God is in how we love our neighbor.
Recently, we lost one of America’s great actresses, Cicely Tyson, who died on January 28th at the age of 96. In a career spanning 65 years, Tyson will be long remembered for the grace and gravitas she brought to her roles in Sounder, The Trip to Bountiful, Roots and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
Just two days before her death, her memoir was published. Cicely Tyson writes in her book Just As I am:
“I want to be recalled as one who squared my shoulders in the service of Black women, as one who made us walk taller and envision greater for ourselves. I want to know that I did the very best that I could with what God gave me.”
May this Lent be for us a time when we focus again on the first and most important commandment of all. May these days leading to Easter be a time for us to re-center our lives on Jesus and the things of Jesus. And in turn may we rediscover a love that is expansive, a love that reaches out to and embraces others as sons and daughters of God, in any way that we can.