with the next breath

At the hospital, we often come face to face with having to decide what really matters. We face traumas and trials and diseases and diagnoses and we want to know the heart of what we need to do. “In the middle of all the chaos, what do I need focus on?”
“As I focus on the next breath and the next breath and the next breath, what do I do with those breaths?”

Near the end of his preaching work, a week or so before he was murdered, Jesus was asked to simplify things. A law scholar came to him, having heard of Jesus’ reputation for wisdom and discernment. The scholar had heard that Jesus gave good answers to complicated questions.

And the text isn’t clear whether the man wanted to trick Jesus or to learn from him. There are enough hints that the man was asking a serious question to a man who was considered more wise than himself.

“What’s the most important commandment?” the man asked.

What a challenging question to ask a religious teacher. They were all important. Earlier in his teaching, Jesus had said that ALL of the law mattered, that is was necessary to keep ALL of the law. How in the world could he now pick ONE of the commandments as the most important? Wasn’t that saying that some were less important? Maybe less worthy of being kept?

But Jesus answered, almost immediately.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

What Jesus was doing was pulling together two commandments actually. One was the first thing that Jewish people said every morning.

It was an affirmation of God as God, and then a statement of devotion.
Love God in every possible way.
All of your heart, with your passions pointed always to God. With passions for other things brought under the guidance of God.
All of your mind, considering how to direct your thoughts toward God, how to make your thoughts reflect God,
All your soul, with every spiritual craving being directed toward the spirit of God.
All your strength, directing the work of your hands toward the glory of God.

And then Jesus adds another dimension, one that changes the equation, that brings the relationships we have with others to the next most important thing.

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

In a few days, Jesus will draw these two even more close. He will say, “If you love me, keep my commands.” And then will say, “Here is my command. Love one another.”

Jesus takes all of the commandments, all of the law, all of the rules and sums them up with two statements of relationship. Learn to love God in every way you possibly can. And loving others is part of that love.

So it becomes a very clarifying conversation.

What is the most important thing to do with whatever breath I have?

 Love God and love others.

What should I stop doing? What isn’t about loving God and loving others.

Should I watch fox or cnn? Should I watch youtube sermons or Ted Lasso? Should I give up Netflix or ESPN or any video ever? Does either help me love God and love others? After 15 minutes am I more motivated to love or less? After 15 hours? After 15 years?

Should I go to the Colts game or should I go to church? Should I read a chapter a day of the Bible or write three encouragement notes or write comments on two facebook posts? Does either help me love God and love others? After 15 minutes are my relationships with God and with other stronger or weaker? After 15 hours? After 15 years?

Should I keep scrolling or go bowling or start doling out words? After 15 minutes, are my relationships with God and others stronger or weaker?

What’s intriguing, of course, is that Jesus didn’t tell us which to choose. And we should probably be cautious when we tell others more than Jesus specified.

Because what he specified is challenging enough: Love God with all of you. And love your neighbor.