Exodus 22, 20-26 + Psalm 18 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 5-10 + Matthew 22, 34-40
In a world that loves far too much “black” and “white”, and likes things neatly separated into categories it is very easy to listen to these verses as though there are two commands. Love God. Love Neighbor. That kind of think is legal and comes out of some thought that Jesus is making some ethical proposal. To dismiss these verses with that thinking is shallow and avoids the theological statement that is being made here which is quite different.
We have to ask a question here. At these two commands set side by side to indicate that human responsibility involves two parallel but separate areas of accountability, or are the two interrelated?
Earlier comments of Jesus on other commandments gives us a clue. When he speaks of the Fourth Commandment honoring Father and Mother, he suggests that doing so is a great manifestation for loving God. When comments on observing the Sabbath, he insists that this observance must not take precedence over human need. When he pushes the love of neighbor to include love of enemies, he is proposing that the one loving imitates God’s generous love for all. With this understanding of how Jesus integrates and all of the commandments, what is being said here is that to love God is to love neighbor, and to love neighbor is to love God. They are not distinct or separate experiences. Conversely then, there is no love of God when the neighbor is not loved. Impossible! Furthermore, a loving response to a neighbor is directly a loving response to God.
In a world that sentimentalizes and often trivializes “love” it bears some reminder with this text that Biblical “love” is not affection, but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude might fill our minds and hearts when we consider all that God has done for us, but warm feelings is not what God expects in response. Stubborn, unwavering commitment is expected by God. It works in reverse as well. It is sentimental and pious to propose or imagine that God has warm fuzzy feelings for us. What God has and what God manifests again and again as God’s love for us is commitment. God does not leave, abandon, or give up on us. That is love.
The love of neighbor proposed in these verses by Jesus Christ is not affection, but an imitation of God’s love by taking their needs seriously. When we do this we love; and we love as God loves. Our love of God at the same time demands that we love those God loves and do everything we can to express God’s for them by caring for their needs.