He said to him, “’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.”
The idea seems simple enough: “Love God, love neighbor.” However in practicality, sometimes difficulties arise in actually doing these two things. We all, at some time or another, have a serious difficulty to live out these simple precepts. The questions always arise, “Who is God, and who is my neighbor” And what does it mean to love them? Thus we wrestle with these questions at the heart of our daily discipleship, or we try to ignore them. Since Jesus says they are the first and second commandments and they are the greatest, then we must face what they mean for us in our day to day living.
The flat black land plains of North Texas was once an open farming and cattle raising country. When I grew up there it was divided into small farms, usually from 100-200 acres. Where I grew up, cotton was the primary crop, along with maize, wheat, alfalfa, and corn. Now most of the small farms have been sold to investors and the land is now divided into 500 to 1,000 acre ranches. It is used mostly for growing cattle and horses and the feeds the animals need. So it is green in the growing season and brown the rest of the time. But I remember it as home to many small farmers who cared not only for their own farm but helped their neighbors with their farm. We shared farming equipment when it was needed, we shared labor with each other and helped plant and gather in the crops together. There was no piece of equipment my dad owned that he would not lend to another farmer as they needed it and vice versa. We shared the occasion of butchering beef and swine to feed our families, and produce from our gardens. Today the ranches are owned by corporations and are much more competitive with each other.
I also remember a man who always traveled through our country side each year looking for work. We fed him at our table and gave him a place to sleep each night he worked for us. My mom washed his clothes. He only had one change of clothes because he walked everywhere he went and traveled light. He was like family that we saw only once or twice a year. I give thanks to God for my childhood experience of how my parents and our farming neighbors loved each other and cared for each other. When someone was ill everyone pitched in to help with feeding animals, plowing fields, harvesting crops or whatever needed to be done for the one who was ill. They put into practice loving God and loving neighbor as number one priority and it taught me exactly what Jesus wanted the Pharisees to grasp in their hearts.
- What have been your experiences in learning the value of these two commandments to guide your daily life?
- How has God blessed you by being loved by others?
- What opportunities do you have today to practice this practical love of God and neighbor?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.