Posts Tagged ‘compassionate service’

MARK 12:28-34

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

What is the single supreme principle under which the complex system of religion can be summarized? Jesus answered with essentially one word: Love. For Jesus, love isn’t merely a warm feeling of positive regard. When directed towards God, love is worship that is passionate and sacrificial, so that everything is “given up” (as an offering of devotion) for the sake of the divine glory and will.

When directed towards the neighbor, love is service that is compassionate and merciful, so that everything is “given over” (as a gift of hospitality) for the sake of human hope and wellbeing. In the spirituality of Jesus, passionate worship and compassionate service are seen as the vertical and horizontal pathways along which must flow the energies of any valid and meaningful religion. One without the other is incomplete, leaving either a socially irrelevant and private piety on the one hand, or a spiritually flat and secular morality on the other.

But even though these two dimensions of the religious life are inseparable, they are not entirely equivalent. Our love of God must provide the “ultimate concern” in our treatment of others. As the Quakers profess, “There is that of God in every person” – which means that our regard for and actions toward our neighbor must begin with an acknowledgement that our relationship to God is implicated or “folded into” our dealings with them.

God is not something else besides our neighbor – above, behind, or outside them in a separate location of His own. Instead, God is our name for That which underlies and energizes existence itself, “inhabiting” our neighbor as electricity inhabits a light bulb. To seek God passionately is to find God compassionately.