Years ago, a church launched an extensive outreach ministry to the children in their neighborhood. In order to get to their afterschool program space, the children had to walk through the church sanctuary. Before long the sanctuary carpet began to show signs of wear and tear. People started getting upset. Many felt it was time to stop the afterschool ministry. So one Saturday, the pastor went to the church and ripped out all of the carpet. When the congregation arrived for worship the next day, they stood on grooved cement instead of beautiful flooring. The pastor said that if carpet was going to keep the body of Christ from sharing the love of Christ, they wouldn’t have it. The church continued their outreach ministry and didn’t replace the carpet!
Jesus is talking with the religious leaders in the Temple compound when a scribe asks, Which commandment is the first of all? Jesus answers by reciting the Shema. Then the scribe restates Jesus’ words by using his own. Speaking this way in the Temple is courageous, not only because he sides with Jesus, but because he adds that this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (v. 33).
He stands in the Temple compound and says that loving God and loving neighbor is more important than what is happening within the religious institution. Sometimes we get caught up in our sacred traditions and forget that their foundation, and our fundamental practice, is expressing our love for God and our neighbor. Throughout Scripture, God tells us that religious practices are not what pleases the Almighty, but how well we love.
What religious practices within your context might keep someone from fully experiencing God’s love? How could Jesus’ words empower you to love those around you?
God of love, may we love our neighbor as you teach us to do, not just tolerating our neighbor, but truly loving them as we love ourselves. Grant us grace when we fall short, and help us to extend that grace to others as well. Amen.