A master of Jewish law came to Jesus and asked what the greatest commandment in the Torah was. Jesus answered with a verse called the Shema; faithful Jews recite the Shema multiple times a day. It’s a passage proclaiming the absolute oneness of God and how we are to love him with all that we are and all that we possess. But that wasn’t all Jesus had to say. He continued and explained that “the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” The scribe asked for the greatest commandment and Jesus told him to love the only God, but he felt that it was important to continue. Loving God is where we begin but we need to go further; we need to love humanity. Christ even says that this commandment is like the first. Loving humanity is like loving God because we have all been formed in His likeness; one relates to the other.
We find another story in the gospels that seems unrelated but is similar at its depth. A woman had been caught in the act of adultery; she was with a man who wasn’t her husband. That morning Jesus was teaching publicly and a group of Pharisees dragged her to him in order to put Jesus to the test. You see, this was a difficult situation; the Torah commands that an adulterer should be stoned. The rabbis of that time frowned on capital punishment and there were several lines that had to be crossed before someone would be stoned. Nevertheless, if all conditions were met the punishment prescribed by the Torah was death by stoning. At times the Roman government withheld the right of the Sanhedrin to execute this kind of judgment. If the Sanhedrin stoned the woman it would be seen as an act of rebellion against the empire and people would die because of it; the only other option anyone could see was for Jesus to contradict the Torah which he wasn’t willing to do. With the stage set, people gathered, and everyone watching, Jesus stooped down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They wanted an answer so Jesus straightened up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and wrote a second time on the ground. One by one, from oldest to youngest, they dropped their stones and walked away. What was he writing?
In the Jewish tradition the ten-commandments are called the Ten Words. The Torah explains that these Ten Words were written on two stone tablets by the finger of God. By describing Jesus as writing with his finger the gospel most likely intends to give a hint at what he was writing. Now, in that same Jewish tradition the Ten Words are understood as two sets of five. The first group is those commandments which relate to God. The second group, the last five of the ten-commandments, relate to humanity. These are things like, no murder and no adultery, no theft, no false witness, no wanting for things that aren’t yours. While the people during that time were very careful concerning ritual observances which relate to God, you’ll remember that, according to the Talmud, this generation was filled with baseless hatred or sinat chinam (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1, Bavli Yoma 9a-b). While Jesus wrote in the dirt initially the woman’s accusers stood their ground, but as he stooped to write the second time each man recognized his guilt. Our love for God is not complete if it does not extend to humanity and these men realized that they had fallen short of observing the second half of the law…the part that demands that we love humanity like we love God. These men were so caught up in testing Jesus’ legal abilities they had forgotten to care about the woman trembling at their feet.
When we talk about dying to ourselves so that Christ can live through us, we need to understand what that looks like. It’s clear from his teaching and deeds that the main thing, as far as Christ is concerned, is love. Jesus said, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12, NIV). God’s love is made complete when we love those who bare his image. When we love people; sinners and saints. This love isn’t some arbitrary, up-for-grabs emotional expression; it is emotional, but beyond that it is practical and has been well described.