“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” - Matthew 22:36-39
Of course, Jesus wasn’t dealing with any virus outbreak at the time. But he is answering a very fundamental question: what is the most important thing in our lives? (note: “Commandment” back then wasn’t just some kind of rule to live your religious life by but a foundational value system that you lived your whole life by.)
When we are dealing with something like a virus outbreak, it strips our lives down to the bare bones. The minimum, the essentials... (though for many In our society the concept of essential range widely). And when we are stripped down to the essentials of our lives we ask that fundamental question. What IS the most important thing in my life? And to that Jesus answers simply. Love God and love others.
Love God. More than our own lives. Not that God has to somehow compete with our love for our lives. No, loving God more than anything else means loving God beyond everything else we get to love in our lives. Love God more in your attention, allegiance, and attitude. Put frankly, in our present context, you love God beyond the fear of death you might feel. Which is a fear that we all have and feel even more so in such time as these.
As a hospice chaplain I deal with death all the time and I thought I would be pretty good at dealing with the fear of mortality. But when you are being stripped down to your bare minimum one by one (things that typically distract you from this fear like work, socializing, and entertainment), you suddenly realize you were not prepared at all for your own death that will soon or later come. You realize you loved these things in life (though they are wonderful gifts from God) more than God himself. And you realize you are afraid of losing it all one day.
Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love God beyond all the things God has given you to enjoy. Love God beyond your fear of death.
Love others as your self. When gripped with fear of losing life or even things you have in life you think you really need (tp?), you become selfish, very selfish, because your most important commandment is to preserve yourself. How diametrically opposite to what Jesus is saying. You love God beyond your fears and you can love others selflessly. You don’t do that, you will be gripped with the primal self preservation only. And we don’t want to see that as a society.
Love others. Of course, take care of those closest to you. Your family, circle of friends, and church family. But seek to help those who are in need around you. Share what you have, be kind and patient with each other, and pray for them. Just around me, there are people who are offering to share extra toilet papers, ordering food from local restaurants that are suffering, and a grocery store that is opening up early just for the elderlies to shop, etc. These are just some examples of using this crisis as an opportunity to serve in practical ways.
And, love those in the frontline of this crisis by praying for them and supporting their work. The doctors, the store clerks, and even the politicians. Especially the politicians and leaders who are making decisions for our lives. We don’t have to agree with them on everything but we have to pray for them and be willing to follow their directives, because again it’s not just about self preservation but doing our part to love others around us. And being civil in our discourses and supporting the decisions of our leaders (generally speaking) is a loving thing to do.
In closing, this is a challenging time for all of us. But when challenged we can still choose to respond with love, instead of fear. Loving God deeper helps us overcome our fears. And fears, when overcome, can birth into a new level of love. Love that sees others as our fellow neighbors. May God surround us all in his Love.