If the bible has a litmus test…and it’s an if.
A big if.
I hesitate and say “if” because terrible acts have been committed more than once in history when scripture is sliced, diced, and served up to my personal tastes. Really, I am a firm believer in reading the whole narrative rather than take a verse here and a verse there. Then I am less likely to read into scripture what I want to hear when I have to confront the whole narrative. But, in an age of 140 character tweets, either the point is made or people move on to find their snark and whit somewhere else.
Biblical principles has become a popular topic in recent weeks in light of current events. “Biblical principles” is short hand for the underlying threads one sees in interpreting the bible for today’s world. Threads used to clarify who is in the right and who is in the wrong.
As much as this phrase has been thrown out in recent weeks to clarify positions, it begs the question, “What is the litmus test of the bible?”
For me personally I don’t see how anyone can argue for any thought besides what Jesus called the two greatest commandments. Love God with all of who you are and love your neighbor – which Jesus makes pretty clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan – is anyone. Friend, family, acquaintance, and, yes, even our enemies fall into the category of neighbor. These two commands are found in a variety of capacities throughout both the Old and New Testament. The Ten Commandments can be considered a further exploration of these two commandments. In the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew (7:12), it is said the Law (first 5 books of the Old Testament) and Prophets can be summed up in treating others as I want to be treated. Paul reiterates this thought to the church in Galatia (5:14). The book of James calls it the “Royal Law” (2:8).
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s under 140 characters. Jesus could tweet it out.
If there is to be a litmus test in the bible, this is it.
Sadly, the two greatest commandments get dismissed out of hand – ”there is more to it than love.” Whenever I hear this response. I always want to ask whether or not we have really thought through the depth of these two commands Jesus has called us to.
New Testament scholar Gerhard Lohfink provides a great insight in the challenge of actually living out these commandments. He writes, “To exaggerate somewhat: anyone who tries to love all people everywhere falls all too easily into the peril of loving those at a distance but not those close at hand.” I think we find it’s easier to love people at a distance than it is to love people we interact with on a daily basis. Especially if we disagree with them. Love is the last thing on my mind when I drive in rush hour traffic and get cut off. Or how about when the ref’s call doesn’t go my way?
The truth of Jesus’s words is the fact he prioritized relationships, and community, over ideology. Jesus knew there would always be disagreements. He worked with the disciples on a daily basis and put up with their arguments about who was the greatest, what should they do in the face of rejection, and whether the anointing of feet was a ridiculous extravagance. There will always be disagreements and differences in community. This is the reality of living in community.
It’s only found in the Gospel of John, but it’s a fascinating prayer found in John 17, which again I think is too easily dismissed in our polarized culture. Jesus prays for the disciples, that they may be one. I seriously doubt Jesus thought in this prayer they would be of one mind – one ideology. He had spent enough time walking with the disciples to know there would always be differences. No, I think Jesus was dreaming bigger.
He had a vision of community – a reflection of the kingdom of God here on earth – where people from all different points of view, from all sorts of background, could gather around a common table and celebrate the Love of God, despite their different views and opinions. O what a wonderful vision, a vision which could minister in a time where it seems our communities are so often filled with people who think exactly like us. A vision which does not sacrifice our relationships with others in the name of what I might believe as an individual.