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Keep it simple

Keep it simple

It’s easy to complicate things.

The snow falls lightly. I have been walking my neighborhood again, this time working through Jesus’s summary of the law, looking for an image to clarify this exchange he had. In an alley, an odd trembling in a tree catches my eye. A large flock of birds flutters in the upper branches.

In the foreground is a free-standing garage with an arrow weathervane on top. The contrast of the two – the complicated tree and the simple pointer – is just what I am looking for.

In Matthew 22, an expert of the law, pushed forward by the Pharisees, tries to catch Jesus in a trap. He asks Jesus to identify the greatest commandment in the Mosaic law. It’s a legitimate question to ask a teacher. But it is intended to start Jesus down a path that might end with him openly nullifying one of the 613 commands in the Old Testament law.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus answers succinctly. We are so accustomed to this combination of commands, we lose the fact that this brilliant pairing of two different parts of the law (Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18) was unprecedented. There’s no record in Jewish writing up to that time of this summary combination.

It’s so powerfully simple. What does God want? Love him. And love people. And if you have trouble figuring out how to love people, look at how you seek good for yourself. Just like that, but for others.

This is our true north. Everything must line up with love.

We need to lose some of the rules by which we judge other believers. Doctrine matters, of course, but there are so many unnecessary dividing lines. And buckle up because this is an election year.

This divisiveness over the little things isn’t new. Christians have been fighting over peripheral issues for two millennia. We keep getting lost in the branches.

Jesus says these two great laws of love undergird everything. So, keeping with the tree theme, I find this bifurcated trunk on the way home. It’s a perfect reminder to keep tracing my own minor disagreements and petty annoyances back to the basics.

Augustine helps me frame up the connection between these two. About loving one’s neighbor, he writes: “For you do not love him as yourself, unless you try to draw him to that good which you are yourself pursuing.”

Be pulled into the love of God. And bring others with us.

Can’t get much simpler than that.

Jesus, teach us how to build our whole lives – both internally and externally – on the law of love. Make it the lens through which we see other people.

Reader: how do you keep these in view when disappointed by or disagreeing with other believers?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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