Jesus 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. Matthew 22:37-39
Jesus’ exchange with the lawyer in Luke’s Gospel, speaks an important requirement for his followers in the wake of the rioting in Charlottesville, VA, after white supremacist groups gathered there for ostensibly protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, from a local park. This protest, as we all know by now, turned into a violent clash between the white supremacists and counter-protest groups. Those groups—including people of faith and clergy leaders–came not only to give witness against the beliefs of the various supremacist groups, but to witness to their faith in a God who is love and calls us to love.
Many people were hurt in the protest, about 20, had to be hospitalized as a result. Three people also died as a result of the rioting: Heather Heyer, a counter-protester and two Virginia State Troopers–Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates.
Much has been said about the events in Charlottesville—from the President to business leaders, white supremacists to people on the street.
As people of faith, Christ’s word is the one we need to hear and listen to when events like this transpire.
Christ tells us how we’re supposed to think, and what we’re supposed to do in all circumstances, by summarizing God’s law that Luke records. Called “The Greatest Commandment,” Jesus says—in a crystal-clear, non-negotiable way—that we shall love. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not, “You should think about trying to love God your neighbors.” It’s not a statement that results in a lot of head scratching, wondering what Jesus could possibly have meant. It’s not a cause that encourages a low-bar kind of commitment.
Jesus gives us a Commandment that says what we SHALL do if we believe in Christ and follow him. We shall love God with the entirety of our being. Our devotion to God shall be unparalleled–deeper and stronger than any other love or commitment in our lives. Our love for God should occupy our thoughts and emotions constantly.
And then we are to love others—anyone and everyone—just as much as we love ourselves. Our compassion and care, our service and sacrifice for others should be as all-encompassing, deep and rich for other people, as it is for ourselves and those closest to us. And it’s non-negotiable, Jesus says. It’s not something we can noodle our way out of. If we say we are Christians—which is to say we follow the way of Christ—then we must love all others—our brothers and sisters near and far—those of different ancestry, as well as those who look just like us. They are precious children of God, just as we are. We must cherish them all. Christ commands we love them deeply and sacrificially and joyfully, because we say we love God.
Hating others is contrary to the teachings of Christ. There is no supreme race of people. To think otherwise is sinful—even evil—because it’s a signal of the rejection of Christ and his word. We all are children of God and members of his family, cherished by the One who created us, and charged to love all others and continue his work of kingdom building here on earth.
Brian McClaren, a theologian, pastor and author, blogged the following words in anticipation of the protests in Charlottesville, and affirmed the necessity of following Christ’s law of loving.
“I wish we could simply ignore the “Unite the Right” groups gathering in Charlottesville this weekend. But I do not believe they can be ignored. They must be confronted in love, not returning insult for insult or anger for anger, but seeking to overcome evil with good. . . .
“As I witness the marchers this weekend, I will be praying for them with love in my heart – praying they will discover that the way of Christ is a way of service not supremacy, nonviolence not violence, and togetherness not apartness.
“I will be praying for the many streams of the Christian religion – that it will discover the way of Christ, which is the way of life, which is the way of love.
“I will be praying for our nation, and all nations, that we will let God’s dream take root in our hearts – a dream of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, a dream of sitting down at table together as neighbors, friends, and family, a dream of building bridges and healing wounds … of learning to tell the story of our past with honesty and humility, so that we can tell the story of a better future, and not only tell it, but make it come true, with God’s holy empowerment.”
May we also join in committing to following the rule of love—letting God’s dream take root in our hearts—so all might be loved and God’s Kingdom might grow, and increasingly be revealed, here on earth.