“Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Jesus restated what every believer in his day knew and believed to be the greatest command. His devoted followers, as well as his adversaries among the priests and Pharisees, would have shouted “amen!” in unison. All of the rabbis would have been in agreement.
“Love your neighbor.” Jesus said that it was the second greatest command. Most of his followers would have shouted “amen.” A few would have stayed thoughtfully silent. The priests would have seethed. Some among the Pharisees would have been among those shouting “amen” the loudest, while other Pharisees would have disagreed.
Among the rabbis, Jesus’ declaration to love God above all and secondly your neighbor was called his yoke. The yoke of a rabbi was his theological position. It was the rank order of the things most important as one sought to live obediently before our God.
Historical records indicate that yokes varied. Most were long lists. While “Love the Lord your God above all” topped every rabbi’s list, the list that followed was varied.
Jesus followed his yoke with a parable. A man was walking the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The man was attacked by robbers. He was assaulted, beaten, and robbed. He was left, almost dead, along the road.
In the story, along came a priest and Levite. In their rank order of important things, temple service was their highest calling. To serve in the temple, a priest or Levite had to remain clean. In the parable they made a wide path around the dying man. Remaining clean was more important than loving their dying neighbor, because helping the neighbor would require touching him.
Jesus was retelling a commonly told parable. His hearers knew the rest of the story. Next to come would have been a Pharisee. On a Pharisee’s list, helping a hurting person typically was higher than remaining ritually clean. The Pharisee would have helped the dying man.
But Jesus surprised his audience. Instead of the third person being a Pharisee, his third person was a Samaritan. I can only imagine the looks in his audience. Jews and their Samaritan cousins were oil and water. They did not mix.
The Samaritan touched the man, helped the man, and went out of his way to care for the man. The Samaritan went above and beyond.
Then Jesus forced the members of his audience to acknowledge that they got his point. “Who was the neighbor?” Jesus asked. The Samaritan, they whispered.
Then he hit them harder. “Go and love the neighbor!” Love the unlovable. Love the ones you have the most difficult time loving.
What is the yoke of Jesus? Love God. Love each other.
Jesus called it easy. Is it easy to do? It certainly is not. But if we love the unlovable, loving the lovable is easier. If we start with the most difficult thing, it will be easier to do things less difficult.
Almost every day those who are called to lead meet difficult people. For some it is the mediocre staff member who silently defies anything remotely connected to change or improvement. For some it is the recurring misbehavior of a student, the overly involved and obnoxious parent, or the meddling board member. All of us find difficult people along our paths.
Jesus calls loving God and each other the two greatest commands. At the same time, obeying him is a choice. The Gospels tell us that some found his teaching too difficult and left him. First-century disciples had the choice of which rabbi to follow and whose yoke to embrace.
Loving is a choice for us, too. Those who are called to lead as disciples of Jesus are called to love God and to love each other. When we do, we will likely be amazed that those who are the most difficult to love in fact need to be loved as much as anyone. Resistance breaks down when it is met by love.
Is loving difficult people easy to understand? Sure. Is loving difficult people easy to do? Absolutely not; it is only possible when we embrace the yoke of our rabbi and trust his grace to guide us.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services