He 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).
I've known this verse forever, it seems. However, it took on added significance when I was working on my dissertation, especially while taking an in-depth look at Letty Russell's Christian Education in Mission. Of course, this sums everything up!. Yes. If we could only love God with everything we have then our commitment to and worship of God would be less trite and self-centered and really about God. We would joyfully surrender to God. This movement away from self-centeredness and distorted self-love would push us out to love our neighbors. It is really difficult to truly love God and not love God's creation. It is really difficulty, maybe impossible would be the right word, to truly love God and not desire the best for everyone. The best: Not in an airy-fairy way, but in a way that involves a commitment to do one' part to ensure an equitable and fair living for all.
In "Love God, Love Neighbor: Societal Vision in Matthew 22:34-40," Warren Carter locates love for God and neighbor in the Jewish tradition which Jesus drew upon. In keeping with this tradition, Jesus emphasized mercy, justice, faithfulness, etc. However, he did it in a way that put people and their needs above the status quo and their definitions of reality. Thus Carter says, "Jesus's connection of love for God and neighbor casts doubt on any profession of love for God that is deficient in its treatment of people." This means that with Jesus tying love for other people to love for God, when our behavior towards other people leaves much to be desired our claims of loving God are suspect. Taking the chapter on the whole, treating people the right way entails giving them what is fair and right, even it means that you personally enjoy less privilege and wealth; ensuring each other's dignity and valuing each other as beloved children of God. I could go on, but by now you know what this means and what you need to do.
So often, and too often, our interpretation of these verses, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37, 39)is mingled with self interest. This makes our interactions with others "deficient." We really need to pray to God to open our capacity to truly love God and other people and mean it. We need to ask God to deliver us from the desire to have the most and be the most because that is almost always at the expense of others. Instead, let us seek God and God's will out of a purified heart.
Warren Carter's chapter,"Love God, Love Neighbor: Societal Vision in Matthew 22:34-40," is found in youTheology's book: Matthaei, Sondra. Loving God, Loving Neighbor: Ministry With Searching Youth. XLibris, 2008.
Loving God, Loving Neighbor