The One Thing
We had a neighbor who came from a Methodist background who liked to tell the story of a Methodist and Baptist arguing over the mode of baptism. The Baptist argued that you had to immerse someone all the way under the water for baptism to be right; the Methodist was arguing for pouring water on someone’s head.
The Methodist asked, “Are you going to tell me that if a man being baptized was in water so that everything except the top of his head was covered, that's not enough?
The Baptist said, “Right! That part counts! The top of the head has to be baptized.”
The Methodist replied, “Great! That's the one thing that we baptize!”
OK, that's likely not a true story; no one ever argues over something like the exact procedure for baptism! Right? But the story does illustrate how often we look for the “one thing” we need to get right in order to be right with God. The rich young ruler that we ran into last week wanted to know “what good thing must I do.” He had already gotten the law down pat; he wanted to know the one thing that he had left undone.
Most religious denominations, movements, groups or tribes got started because someone discovered “the one thing” in the Bible that wasn't being done correctly by other believers. Usually, the discoverers of this “one thing” start their own church or movement that does that one thing right. And it is a rather natural step from believing that you do that one thing right to believing that you are the one who are right. Right?
In our reading for today from Matthew 22, Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Sure this was a trick question asked within a context of other trick questions. But Jesus answered it, and thus in essence he is telling us the one thing (actually the two things) that we have to get right--
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT)
The greatest commandment of the law flows directly from the Shema in Deut. 6:4-5, the statement that God is one. While Matthew omits this first part of the quotation, Mark includes it (see Mk 12:29). Because God is the one true God and created us out of love, then our greatest command for us to follow is to love God in return. Everything flows from that! And Jesus throws in a second great commandment that also flows from the first—to love others as we love ourselves. The two greatest commands are the greatest command because they sum up the rest of the law.
The one thing we have to do in order to please God—love God and love others. There is no one doctrine or practice or ritual that if we get right ensures that we are favored by God. At the same time, there is no one doctrine or practice or ritual that if we get wrong will automatically invalidate our relationship with God. The one great command of scripture is to pursue the love of God and to show that love by loving all those people that are loved by God (which is everyone). We can never get finished doing that. It turns out that "the one thing" is pretty much everything.