Abraham’s family must have wondered what possessed him when he said he was leaving the comfort of Ur for somewhere unknown, but then he had heard a promise to bless him. It must have been hard to hold on to that promise when he found he could have no children and was approaching old age. Yet, it was when all hope seemed lost, that God gave him a son. So, you can imagine how precious that son would have been and the shock he felt when God asked him to sacrifice that son. It is difficult to imagine what must have gone through his mind. Yet, remarkably, Abraham was willing to go through with it. It is the first reference in the Bible to worship: Abraham placing God above all else by giving his very heart and soul. Of course, God’s promise were still on the table, but how they would work out was not Abraham’s problem. God would find a way. And Abraham’s faithfulness to his God was never forgotten.
It is this absolute placing of God first that is also reflected in the Great Commandment:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
But love needs to be expressed, or it is not really love at all. We see this clearly with Abraham, in placing God before all rivals, even that of his own son. But love has other expressions too. When we are in love, there is little we will not do for our loved one. We find it easy to love the things they love, and we do it easily. We delight in the pleasure of our beloved. Well, if I am loving God with every fibre of my being then I am going to want to love those he loves, even when I find that they are lying in a gutter, smelling to high heaven, laying drunk in a pool of their own urine. In fact, he even loves them enough to die for. So, the second command Jesus gives is like the first: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” It is part of the same command really. The Great Commandment sums up the standard God has always set for us. It is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is at pains to say that it is not enough that we don’t murder, but we should not even hate. There are no grey edges to this.
At this point I’d like to make an important aside. We, in the West, get very confused by the idea of sin. Yet, in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the new, the word used is the word an archer might use when they miss a target. Later, it also came to mean the missing of a standard, such as a law or expectation. Knowing the standard we are expected to follow is thus important. It avoids the debates with those who think we sin if we ignore Victorian morality, or those who hardly think we sin at all. Jesus reminds us through the Great Commandment what that standard is. It is a standard that has not changed. It is the standard of loving God to such an extent that we love the world, just as he loves it. It is, of course, an impossible standard by ourselves. Yet, we have the promise that, by the power of the Spirit, we can keep it and, by the faithfulness of Jesus, forgiveness when we don’t.