A lawyer tries to drag Jesus into the labyrinth of laws. Perhaps he hopes he can lose Him there. Around 600 laws governed the daily life of a Jewish person. How would it be possible to choose one which is greater than all the others? Do not all of them come from the mouth of God and have equal weight?
I love the way Jesus doesn’t choose one as the greatest. I’m not even sure that He chooses two! Instead, he invites the lawyer to touch the underlying structure of Love that all law and prophecy is built on. Choosing to be a loving person and expressing that Love for God and for others is the heart of the matter. Love is an interior dance and Jesus stresses the inner space from which Love and action flow.
And it is probably true that in the modern world, we have even more laws than the mere 600 in the Torah. If we thought about it too much, we would all get the screaming ab dabs. They surround every human activity. Laws about loans, living and dying, gift giving, parenting, driving or riding a bicycle, crime, food, sex, relationships. And let’s not forget health and safety and the protection of vulnerable children and adults. Whether religious or secular the big question is always, “Did I behave in the right way? Did I keep the law? As long as I can say that I acted properly, the lawyers will be happy.
Once upon a time there was a very hard-working father who was hurrying out the door to work. His little boy was playing with his cars in the hallway. His dad patted him of the head and went out the door. But as he put his key in the ignition, he had an epiphany. “What am I doing? I’m too busy to spend time with my little boy. He’ll be old before I know it”. Harry Chapin was singing ‘The cats in the cradle’ inside his head. The man goes back in the house, sits on the floor and starts playing cars with his boy. After two minutes the boy said, ‘Daddy, why are you angry with me?’
Once upon another time, a woman took her elderly mother into her home after she had had a mild stroke. The daughter was very attentive to her mother’s every need. But one day a huge fight erupted over a boiled egg. In the middle of the war of words the mother asked her daughter, ‘Why are you doing all this for me anyway’. Her daughter started a litany of reasons. I want you to feel safe. I want you to be well. I think I ignored you a lot when I was younger and wanted to make up a little of that lost time. When she finished her litany, her mother said, “A load of old rubbish!” Her daughter was furious until her mother added, ‘ You don’t need a list of reasons. We love each other. It’s enough”.
Father and daughter were behaving correctly but their actions did not flow from the heart centre of Love. Doing something because it is expected and doing something from the heart are two different experiences. A three-year-old, and a little old lady can see it clearly. Do you think that Jesus’ interest in the heart space is clear enough for us? Perhaps that is why he insists that real forgiveness can only come from the heart.
It seems that when we are fluent with the inner landscape of sacred and human love, we can move more freely among the laws knowing their ultimate purpose. So, we know when to heed them, when to modify them and when to dismiss them. We might even heal a sister or brother who is crippled, on a sabbath day.