As a cradle Catholic and a type A personality, I am—perhaps not shockingly—a rule-follower. Please give me a set of guidelines: I will abide by them. Don’t worry about repercussions; if I fail, trust me, I will punish myself quite well. Rules are the only thing standing between us and the great abyss of chaos that threatens at all times. Right?
Unfortunately, this kind of attitude means I get a little lost in the weeds sometimes. As a parent, it can manifest itself as obsessing over how many vegetables I can get into a preschooler who insists he just doesn’t like food, or banning my infant from owning toys with batteries, or scolding my spouse for using disposable diapers when we have perfectly good cloth ones around that won’t contribute to the growing Pacific Garbage Patch. (You can imagine that this makes me a delight to live with.)
In the section of Mark’s Gospel leading up to Sunday’s Gospel, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes are trying to get Jesus lost in the weeds with them, too. They attempt to catch him with trick questions about taxes and remarriage and other issues within the hundreds of commandments of the Torah.
But the scribe’s question in the Gospel cuts through the rules and the lists and asks us to get to the heart of what our relationship with God is about: What is the greatest commandment?
The answer? Ultimately, it’s not a rule, it’s a relationship: Love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus makes it clear that the two are inseparable.
One translation of St. Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation, in the Spiritual Exercises, captures this idea another way: “I am from love, of love, for love.”
We are from Love, which is, of course, another name for God.
We are of love: Created in God’s image, love is at the heart of who we are and what animates us. We live, move, and breathe in God’s love.
We are for love: Our divine purpose is to make God’s love more fully present around us. Neighbor by neighbor. Picky toddler by picky toddler. Person seeking refuge by person seeking refuge.
If we can remember this, we can find our way out of the rule-ridden weeds and into the spacious place that Love provides. In that place, we get to see what God’s love looks like lived out: like justice for the oppressed. Like freeing others from the forces that enslave them. Like a table big enough for all to be fed. That spacious place is where we draw close to the kingdom of God: not by following the rules perfectly, but by loving wholeheartedly.
For reflection: When do I let rules get in the way of relationships? Who is the neighbor I find difficult to love? What is one concrete action I can take to show my love for them?
Katie Lacz is a mother, an M.Div., and a spiritual director living outside Boulder, CO. She currently works as Program Associate for the Women’s Ordination Conference. A former Jesuit Volunteer (Raleigh ’06-’07), she continues to seek the magis while living in the messy and beautiful work of raising her two small children.