The two greatest commandments in the law are that to love the Lord your God with all heart and all your soul and all your mind and to love your neighbour as yourself (see Matthew 22:34-40). I find it intriguing that the two greatest commandments involve something that is actually difficult to regulate for – to love, to be involved in relationship. For how easy is it to command love? To lay down laws about the intricacies of worship; to stipulate on how to conduct business without defrauding others; property legislation to ensure the rich cannot fleece the poor: all these seem possible (given that I am neither a lawyer, nor involved in its’ preparation). But love? Can one really legislate for love? Surely you cannot regulate love, force people into choosing love?
For, ultimately, love is a choice; not a one off choice either, but a constant choosing, a perpetual choice. A perpetual choice, in the first instance, of a dedication to God, and then to the other, a constant choosing that sinks in so that it becomes part of the very depths of us, so that the choosing becomes instinctual. These two commandments are the greatest in the law because that choosing, that love, encompasses the whole point of the law – all the laws about worship, and conducting business and so on are caught up in those two commands – love of God and love of neighbour. But they are commands for something you can’t regulate for: commandments to choose a relationship, first and foremost; with God, but also with our neighbour ‘as ourselves’. It is that relationship, that choosing of that relationship, which is our priority, and on which hang all the law and the prophets. Just think of the prophets: are they not concerned with the failures of the relationship with God and with the neighbour, primarily? All the punishment warnings: are they not there to warn the prophets’ hearers of the consequences of their choosing to ‘love’ idols, and to refuse love of their neighbour? Could our response be to look more closely at our own choices, and how closely they link with our love of God and neighbour?
Yet love is not only a choice, but also a surrender: a surrender to God, first and foremost, who are Love; a choosing to surrender ourselves to God, but a choosing, a surrender that cannot happen without God. We cannot choose love in isolation from God, who is with us, calling us, drawing us further in to that surrender. It is a denying of ourselves, taking up of our cross and following God – that choice of love, of relationship, which has to be a choosing, yet at the same time can be no choice for it is God who calls us and God who does it.
But love involves more than surrender, it also involves acceptance: acceptance of the fact of Love; acceptance of the fact that I am loved; acceptance of the fact that we are loved; acceptance of the fact that I can do nothing to earn this love, that I am not wholly worthy of it, and neither is anyone else; acceptance of the fact that it is not a competition. It is an acceptance, firstly, of the love of God for me, which I can never deserve, but only respond to; but also an acceptance of the fact that this is true of others, both those I love and those I cannot stand (who may sometimes be the same person...). Somehow, acceptance of the overwhelming, total nature of God’s love for me, even if we can only catch a glimpse of it, can only lead to a response of increasing love for God, of increasing relationship with that Love. A relationship which can, and should, spill over to our relationship with others, however complicated and however much we fail.
For love is not something you can legislate for; it is a relationship which grows and changes; a journey in which we fail and learn. It is a constant choosing, a constant surrender; never a one-off ‘oh, I’ve got there at last’, but a perpetual, deepening relationship. One which involves some regular questioning of ourselves:
Do I choose love? and what is preventing or inhibiting that choice?
Do I surrender to God’s love? and what keeps me from that total surrender? can I let go of all that keeps me from surrendering?
Do I accept the total, immense love of God for me? and for those around me? do I accept the fact of that love, even through the dark times, when I cannot feel it, and can only cling on, if necessary by my fingernails?
Do I choose, surrender to and accept the relationship which our God is holding out to me? Do I choose to go on choosing, surrendering and accepting ever deeper? and do I choose, surrender and accept that this love, this relationship, will also apply to others?