What's Love Got to Do with It?

BY DONAVON RILEY

Love is the sum of the law. Love God with all your heart, spirit, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. That means that if love can't be done when it needs to be done then get rid of the law, because it's not lawful. Being lawful isn't the purpose and goal of the law. Love is the sum of the law.

This means, for example, that when we aim for the best seat at the table [and our neighbor has nowhere to sit] we do not love our neighbor. Instead, Jesus says, take the lower seat. Give the seat to someone else. Sit on the floor if it means someone who's hungry gets a place at the table. This is what Jesus teaches the religious leaders, but they won't listen because they always aim for the best seat at the table.

Each one of them wants to be thought well of; the one everybody pays attention to. Each one wants to be a big shot, one of the "most-importants." Each one wants honor and respect. Each one wants people to pay attention when he walks into a room. Each religious leader expects to be given the best seat at the table. And why not? He's very well thought of in church, at home, and in his community.

But, none of the religious leaders has any humility. Each one acts the part of a humble man, but his heart is empty of love. He puts on a good act of humility. He makes a show of loving God and everybody else. But, if any of the religious leaders really did have any humility his life would bear witness to it. None of the religious leaders has any humility because each one loves himself more than God or anybody else. 

Since each religious leader loves himself more than God or anybody else, he's deaf, dumb, and blind to the purpose and goal of the law. Each religious leader rolls his eyes at Jesus' nonsense. Jesus seems to be saying that the law must be shut up and ignored where it is in conflict with love. Jesus seems to be saying that everything depends on love. He even seems to be saying that love is the sum of the whole law. He seems to be saying that if love can't be done when it needs to be done then get rid of the law.

Now, we're Christians and not religious leaders, but we often act the part well enough. However, unlike the religious leaders, we're baptized children of God. In Christ, God's given us the authority to throw out any interpretation of God's Word of Law if it gets in the way of us doing love.

This is why Jesus upsets the religious leaders when He seems to say that the law must be shut up and ignored where it is in conflict with love. It's why Jesus offends the religious leaders when He seems to say that everything depends on selfless love. It's why Jesus aggravates the religious leaders when He seems to say that selfless, self-giving love is the purpose and goal of God's Word of Law. Jesus gets under the religious leaders' skin because He seems to say that love can be done when it needs to be done, because God is love. And, since Jesus seems to be claiming that He is equal with God, Jesus is Love and so He will do what needs to be done in the way of faith and love and kindness. All implications the religious leaders find repulsive because they've devoted their lives to being lawful, God-fearing, obedient people.

But they fail to hear Jesus because Jesus says the purpose and goal of God's Word of Law isn't about their doing at all. God's selfless, self-giving Love comes to them and us, and He is faithful, loving, and kind. He does this because He loves self-loving us. He loves deaf, dumb, blind us to death. Jesus can't not pour out His love for us through His doing for us in the way of words, water, bread, and wine. Good Friday's selfless, self-giving love shapes our daily Christian life.

At the same time, Jesus is Love beyond our understanding. We can't explain Him, we can only receive Him. We can only enjoy Him, and in Him love God and everybody else. And why not? Love pours Himself into our ear holes. That's why we were deaf, but now He's made us hear. Love pours Himself into our mouth holes. That's why we were dumb and blind, but now He makes us perceive and see.

Now we hear and see that Jesus is Love, and now we trust that Jesus is the purpose and goal of God's Word of Law. So we love Jesus then, with all our heart, spirit, and mind, and we love our neighbor in the selfless, self-giving way that Jesus loves us. This also means that if Jesus can't do what needs to be done He gets rid of how we interpret the law, because it's not lawful. And why not? Being lawful isn't the purpose and goal of the law. Love is the sum of the law. Jesus is the sum of the law. Jesus, who loves us as He loves Himself, sets us free in Baptism to give up our seat, to give up our self-importance, to even give up our life in order to love each other Jesus-much. That's the goal and purpose of God's Word of Law - Love who is Jesus our Savior.

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.
Twitter @DonavonRiley