So, we were discussing this at our sermon group this morning. On the one hand you have Jesus saying that The Most Important Thing Ever (the Summary of the Law, it is called in some circles) is A) Love God with everything in you and B) Love your Neighbor as Yourself. All of his ministry and most of his teachings that are told of in the four canonical gospels support this and the ones that don’t are suspected by many biblical scholars to be later additions and edits by his well-meaning but utterly clueless and totally unhelpful students. Okay. Nifty. Very clear. Love-Love-Love. It’s a reeeeally easy doctrine to remember. Less easy to live out, but not a whole lot of memorization required.
But you know, all throughout the four canonical gospels, over and over again, his students ranged from Not Getting It to Seriously Misunderstanding with exceptionally brief intervals of seemingly divine epiphany in which they Sort Of Understood, A Little. Pentecost notwithstanding, I don’t think much changed with their understanding of his message after the Roman Empire executed him. What makes me say this?
Remember that easy-to-remember doctrine that epitomized the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth? Love-Love-Love? That so ain’t what Peter, the head of the Church in the first century and Paul, it’s chief evangelist in that same time period preached at all, at least, not according to the vast volume of extant letters from both of them to various others. Now, it was how they seemed to live, but not what they taught or preached, which is an important difference. According to Acts 2:42-47, the first Christians totally lived this way, radically loving one another, but it didn’t last and no wonder if their preachers and teachers were focused on something else, which they absolutely were. They were focused on Jesus dying and rising again. Almost exclusively, were they focused on this.
Now, I need to admit my bias – I was raised this way myself. Realizing that there was a Summary of the Law at all was a shock to me.
And since the resurrection is only a finger pointing at the moon (and not the moon itself), it really shouldn’t be the thing we emphasize. We should be emphasizing the moon, or if you will, the Summary of the Law. The mystery of our faith isn’t that Jesus died, Jesus is risen, and Jesus will come again. The mystery of our faith is loving our neighbors despite our propensity to kill them, loving ourselves despite guilt and shame, and loving God even when we cannot feel his presence. That’s the mystery.
At some point, particularly when Peter, et. al., seemed to be directly contradicting the Summary of the Law, I had to ask myself: Whose teaching was more important to me? Jesus’, whom I acknowledge as Messiah, Enlightened, and God-In-Sandals? Peter’s, whom I’m acknowledge as the leader of the nacent church and a good, if often confused and misguided individual?
And so, I hold all my bible as holy, as it describes honestly and faithfully the encounters of good and well-meaning people with the Living God. I acknowledge that their encounters were valid even as their own biases show through like neon lights. And I acknowledge that wherever there is conflict or confusion, I will apply the Summary of the Law. If it seems to fit, I will consider the story commentary. If it doesn’t, redaction. It’s all holy. Some of it is even helpful.