In the time of Jesus, the Jewish religion placed many obligations or requirements on the Jews. These obligations, or commandments, came from the Mosaic law and the teachings of the Hebrew prophets. Jesus tried to make religion simple and understandable by explaining that there were only two basic commandments from God.
Jesus said that these two commandments were, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all of the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Jesus explained what “love your neighbor” means in the parable of the good Samaritan. Love for your neighbor means to not cause human suffering and to not be indifferent to human suffering. It means to be compassionate and try to relieve human suffering whenever possible. Jesus defined “neighbor” as everyone, even those we consider our “enemies.”
It is easy to understand how we can “love our neighbor.” But what does it mean to “love God?” What does the word “God” mean?
Since the life we have, as individuals, came to us through no decision or action of our own, we know that life comes from some Source beyond ourselves. In ancient religions, the original Source of life or the One who created the world was viewed as the “ruler” of the world.
In paternalistic cultures, this “ruler” of the world was viewed in the male gender and called “God.” In maternalistic cultures, this “ruler ” of the world was viewed in the female gender and called “Goddess.” This is why some religions worship a “God” and others worship a “Goddess.” The words “God” and “Goddess” both mean “ruler.”
In the Jewish culture, which was paternalistic, the “ruler of the world” was viewed in the male gender as a “King” or “Lord.” Jesus referred to God as “Our Father who is in heaven.” Jesus used the term “kingdom” of God to refer to wherever God’s “rules” or commandments were obeyed. [I will discuss the meaning of the “kingdom of God” in another essay.)
We may refer to the creator and ruler of the world as “God,” “Lord,” “Goddess,” “Father,” or any other term but we should always remember that these are human terms that should not be taken literally. The Source of life is beyond description. For my purposes, I will use the word “God” and I will refer to the “reign of God” as the “kingdom of God.”
Now back to the question: What does it mean to “love God?”
The word “love” means to “appreciate” or “respect.” How can we show our respect for God?
Jesus answers this question in his parable of the “talents.” The word “talent” refers to an amount of money. So I call this the “Parable of the Money” (Matthew 25:14-30), as follows:
“For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
“He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So too, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him,’Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’
And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ….And cast the worthless servant into outer darkness; there will men weep and gnash their teeth.”
In this Parable of the Money, the servants (I will call them “employees”) are loaned various amounts of money (“to each according to his ability”) to invest and earn a profit for their master (whom I will call the “employer”). Two employees were “faithful” in investing the money and they were rewarded by their employer.
But one employee made a feeble excuse for not investing his one “talent” by claiming that his employer was unfair (“reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow”). The employee ignored the fact that it was his duty to invest what had been entrusted to him in order to produce something more. The employer provided the money to invest and it was the employee’s job to do the “sowing and winnowing.”
The employer took away the “one talent” from the unfaithful employee and threw him out into the night.
In the parable, the first two employees did the best they could with what they had been given to invest. The employee with five “talents” produced five more, and the employee with two “talents” produced two more. Both employees received equal approval from their employer.
In life, human beings receive various amounts of time, abilities, and opportunities for investment. A person can complain that he or she did not get a fair share, and just refuse to use whatever that person has received. We see individuals who become “drop-outs” in life. They waste their time and abilities, blame others, and wallow in self-pity or bitterness.
The failure to invest one’s own life as God intends is disrespectful to God. This is clearly a failure to “love God.” The only way we can show our love for God is to use our time, abilities, and opportunities as God intends for us to use them.
So how does God intend for us to use our time, abilities, and opportunities? It is not a coincidence that Jesus connected God’s commandments to “love God” and “love your neighbor.” These are inseparable. These laws are two sides of the same coin. The only way we can show our love for God, our creator, is by investing ourselves in something that is helpful to others.
Jesus preached the “gospel” (good news) that the “kingdom of God” is “at hand” (here and now) for those who discover and follow God’s natural laws of love for God and neighbor. Jesus stated his mission in his prayer to God, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And Jesus calls us to follow him in this mission. Life has meaning when we use it as God intends.