Wednesday of Trinity 18: Does Love Transcend or Summarize the Law?

Image result for ten commandments painting

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Love is a summary of the Law, but there are two ways to understand this, one right and one wrong.

The first way sees love as transcending the Law, almost as if love is a higher level of relating to God and neighbor than that outlined in the Law. This way of love trumps what the commandments teach. It’s almost antithetical to the commandments. That is, love is seen as antithetical to the “legalism” of the moral code. This way of understanding love is observed in those who understand “Pharisaism” as legalism, as a rigid adherence to rules, even moral rules. By contrast, they suggest, love is about tolerance, forgiveness, and a general easy going attitude toward the supposed “rules” of the Ten Commandments.

This in fact is antinomianism, and a false understanding of both the Law and love. It’s rooted in Gnosticism, in which the “age of the Law” is seen as the Old Testament world and its God, whereas the New Testament is a cosmic revolution in the way of being, in which “rules and regulations” come to an end and “love rules the world.”

The second way of understanding that love is a summary of the Law is that love animates each commandment and indeed explains why the commandment was given. It’s a “wax on wax off” approach to ethics (see, Karate Kid). That is, God uses the training wheels of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament to train His people in what right looks like. The Law is a “pedagogue,” as St. Paul said, a child’s teacher training God’s people at the “child” time of His history, like a mother teaching her children how to say “please” and “thank you,” though they don’t know why.

But when Jesus comes, we see how love fulfills and animates each commandment. That doesn’t take away the specific meaning and importance of each commandment. Training wheels guide a bike to go smooth, straight, and upright; when they come off, nothing about what they trained goes away. So also the Ten Commandments.

So we see, each commandment shows us what love looks like. Love of God looks like (a) worshiping a particular God with a name and day above all others – Jesus is the revelation of God’s name and day, so that means worshiping Jesus; (b) love of neighbor looks like honoring earthly authorities, protecting one’s body, marriage, property, and reputation.

Notice, the alternative (Gnostic) understanding of love takes the opposite view of what love looks like according to the Ten Commandments. Love supposedly doesn’t “exclude” other Gods and religions. Love says God transcends names. Love is about rebelling against earthly authorities. Love transcends marriage. Love means forced sharing of property. Love operates by narratives transcending reality, in which particular individuals are seen as two-dimensional characters of the governing narrative psycho-drama – their reputation be damned. (See, Brett Kavanaugh.) Love means divinizing desire (covetousness). In other words, love is everything the Ten Commandments are not.

This is not what Jesus teaches. “Love makes the world go around” means something, and looks like something, and what it looks like is the Ten Commandments. Love is not articulated through a vote, through pressing buttons at social media sites, through declarations of fuzzy abstractions, or through an embrace of some overarching ideology.

Love looks like specific actions related to God and neighbor. How do we worship the true God as opposed to the other gods? How do we love neighbor? There are answers to these questions, and the Ten Commandments show what those answers are.

Jesus teaching that love fulfills the Law is not about Him ending the Ten Commandments, but about Him teaching how each commandment is fulfilled in Him. He is the God above all other gods. His name is the revelation of the Lord’s name. (See John 12: 27-28.) He is the Sabbath Rest, to whom the weak and heavy-laden come. He honored His father and mother, and even the authorities nailing Him to a tree. He could have rightfully killed His enemies, but turned the other cheek, and was never angry at His brother, but forgave them. He taught marriage more strictly than just about anyone. He taught giving of one’s property, not the taking of it under the assumption that property ownership is a social construct. He only and ever expressed the truth about others, and taught due process of Law, requiring the witness of two or three to verify a claim. And He clearly taught against covetousness, teaching rather contentment.

In each case we could explore how He sublimely taught the Ten Commandments and took things to a higher level. We see this explicitly with the fifth and sixth commandments and murder and adultery. If He does not keep the sixth command regarding faithfulness to wives, what guarantee do we have He will be faithful to His bride, the Church? If He doesn’t turn the other cheek to His enemies’ abuse, what does this to do us when we are His enemies because of our sins? If Jesus isn’t content with His cross, my goodness, what does this to do us? If He doesn’t honor His Father’s desire for our salvation, but rebels, what does that do to us? If He bears false witness about our sins – testifying they aren’t forgiven as He intercedes for us – where then do we stand? If He denies us our rightful and blessed claim to “inherit the earth” as our possession, and steals that claim, how is He not a liar?

The Ten Commandments show us what love looks like. Jesus fulfills each of these commandments. But He’s not a rebel showing us some fuzzy abstraction about “love.” No, He shows us how He fulfills and amplifies each commandment.

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