By Rev. Eric Brown
“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Again! They did it again! Another Gospel lesson, and another question tossed out by people simply to test Jesus, simply to trap Jesus. Again! Another question about a point of Law, another chance to try to complain about how Jesus does this or says that. Tell us the greatest commandment, and we'll complain how you didn't pick a different part of the Law. It's the same old tired game. How many of these sorts of questions will Jesus put up with before He snaps and starts bringing down divine smite upon people?
Apparently the answer is “a lot”. You might guess 77 times or 70 times 7 times, but I don't think even those are high enough. Over and over Jesus points people to the love that He has for them, points them to the fact that He is the Messiah. This time Jesus answers that the great command is the love God, but this love of God means a second command must follow. Love your neighbor – even the neighbor who keeps on trying to trap you with annoying questions. For Jesus, loving the neighbor means coming down from heaven, being born of the Virgin Mary, being great David's even Greater Son. It means pointing out God's love for the world, God's plan of salvation even to the very people who would arrange for Him to be crucified before the week is out.
You see, when Jesus sums up the law as “love God and love your neighbor”, He's not watering down the law. He's not turning it into mere sentimentality or anything like that. Loving the neighbor is hard, because frankly sometimes your neighbor is a jerk. Sometimes they keep pushing and prying and poking and prodding. And oftentimes we use their jerkiness as an excuse to be a jerk right back at them. Instead of loving and serving the neighbor, we so often run the opposite way. We dehumanize them and objectify them; we belittle them or ignore them. Just as they do to us. A nasty cycle of not love but hatred and disdain.
But Jesus is determined to see that His neighbor is loved. He is determined to see that you are loved. And so, He became Man to love and redeem the very people we dehumanize or who dehumanize us. He Himself became the object of scorn and ridicule to rescue the very people that we objectify or that objectify us. He emptied Himself and made Himself as a nothing to win salvation for the people we belittle and treat as nothing or who tear us down. He wins salvation upon the cross even for the sins of the people we'd rather ignore or who ignore us. In fact, He does all of this for you.
Because He loves you. Honestly. Simply. Fully. Even when you've done things that are annoying or foolish. He still loves you. Determinedly and doggedly. He will let nothing stop Him from loving you – not sin, not Satan, not death, not the riches of all creation. Jesus loves you. He loves you as Himself. Of course He does, for He has baptized you into Himself. Of course He does, for He gives Himself to you over and over and over again in His Supper.
There will be times when you look at yourself, some stupid petty sin that you have done, and you will think: “Again! I did it again!” And you may be tempted to think that maybe this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back – where Jesus will call it quits. Nope. That's not how Jesus works. Over and against all the shame and guilt and anger at yourself that you sometimes feel, Jesus will still love you and forgive you. He truly and honestly loves you as Himself.
Rev. Eric Brown is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Illinois and the co-host of the HT Gospeled Boldly Podcast.
Created: October 16th, 2017