Every day, I am reminded of the focus of the life of Jesus. It is contained in just a few verses that appear in multiple places in the Bible, but I find the most meaning and thus the greatest guidance for my life in Matthew 22:36-40. Consider those verses here from the New International Version: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If you are familiar with someone known as Jesus, take a few minutes to join me in remembering Jesus. If you are not familiar with Jesus or if you would like to become more familiar with him, join me as I remember Jesus. I feel this can help anybody whether they consider themselves to be Christian or not.
If you are familiar with me, you are likely to have one or two thoughts at this point. First, you may think, “John, are you going to bring that up again?!” andor you may think, “Sure, John, you manage to live by that all day, every day! Who do you think you are kidding?!”
Yes, I am bringing it up again and I can tell you why. It comes up many times each day for me. It is not just about looking at others lives and actions. Plenty of opportunities to consider it in my own life arise every day, all day long. And, of course, I do not succeed in following this teaching at all times.
The reason for writing about remembering Jesus today is Facebook specifically, and recent conversations more generally. Some of those conversations you may have seen on TV, heard on the radio, or read in the newspaper. The political issues of the day have politicians of all stripes referencing Christ or Christianity quite a bit. Also, many folks who consider themselves followers of Jesus (Christ) seem to espouse opinions, judgements, and behaviors that I do not believe acceptable within the guidance of the greatest commandments. Many recognize the greatest commandment and will say it is important for guiding life, yet they can read the Bible and find many excuses for expressing their anger and prejudices against others. They can do this because it is easy to leave off the last verse, Matthew 22:40. That last verse, “All the Law and the Prophets hand these two commandments” means that we can use this teaching to evaluate our thoughts, actions, and behaviors at all times. Even other verses in the Bible are to be evaluated in terms of this teaching and applied accordingly if the other verses can be aligned.
Remembering Jesus frequently throughout each day is important in adjusting my life on the fly. I have learned to remember Jesus frequently by using a device called a trigger. My emotions, particularly anger, trigger remembering Jesus. I remember Jesus via a quick prayer that I have running through my mind almost continuous all day long. I sometimes find it necessary to vocalize or at least bring to the forefront of my mind this prayer when times are the roughest. That quick prayer goes something like this, “Love God with everything about you and love others as you love yourself.” When I need to vocalize it or bring it out for greater effect, I may emphasize parts of the prayer or even insert names. For example, “Love God with everything and love others as I love myself” may be used when I find I am getting down on myself too much. It helps to remind myself at times that God does love me and that it is implied in that passage from Matthew.
An extreme example of inserting someone’s name in the prayer came during the recent trial of one of the people who murdered my son, Dion, and his wife, Jennifer. To help diffuse the anger and sorrow, I reminded myself that Jesus said to “Love God with everything I have and love Mark Leonard as I love myself”. It was the most difficult task of my life next to accepting the deaths of loved ones.
I recently read a dissertation titled Love At The Center by Mark McNees. McNees references the verses of Matthew 22:36-40 as the Most Important Commandment(s) and uses the acronym MIC. I like that terminology so I am retraining myself to use it.
I am easily frustrated so I have plenty of opportunities to practice “adjusting myself” to the MIC. Co-workers, family, friends, and strangers can all very easily upset me to some degree at any time during the day. Recently, I posted something I thought was a nice thought on Facebook only to have somebody post a hateful response. It took me by surprise since I hoped to promote peace and understanding with the post. Many read it and responded in some way, but one person had a rather ugly, political response. I avoided replying when I remembered Jesus with the MIC and noted that the purpose of the post was to support peace and understanding.
An important concept for helping me to grow in the use of the MIC is something Christians call “the grace of God”. The grace of God basically says that God loves each and every human being equally. It is a concept that can be found as a teaching in all major religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. As with most aspects of life, it seems some of us are better than others at sharing God’s gift of grace. There can also be times in life when it more difficult to be graceful as we live.
I return to my example of dealing with the trials of the people who murdered my son. Believing in a God of grace means that I know that God handles all of us equally and that God cares about each of us the same. Most of the differences in outcomes for us result from our actions and behavior. The greatest difference in this world comes from each of us in our actions and thoughts as we each live our lives. Each of us can change the world in a positive manner or in a negative manner with anything that we may do as we live. The murderers had opportunities to avoid the result, but they chose not to avoid it. In moving forward, I have opportunities to promote a more loving world or I can be self-centered and hateful so that I add to the misery of the world. When I remember Jesus, I promote the more loving world via the MIC.
In considering the MIC and daily life, remember the grace of God. A definition of that grace is the unmerited love and the bestowal of blessings from God. God shares that grace with us in our relationships with God so we can in turn share God’s grace with the people we encounter in life. We do not earn it from God. It is freely given. Jesus showed us that it can be done by a human. We can freely give it to others, too, if we earnestly seek to do so.
Consider how you can integrate the MIC into your life. What can you use as triggers to remind you of the need to remember Jesus and pray the MIC? For myself, I use my emotions (mainly feelings of anger or frustration). You may also find your emotions a good place to start. Right now, in many places in the world, it is common for people to get upset by the issue of immigration. With football season here, I know people whose presence can be quite unpleasant when their team loses. The difficulties of life such as finances, work, and family can elicit strong emotions that can lead to harmful actions and behaviors. I was stuck in traffic after leaving the office this afternoon and found it helpful to pray the MIC.
Remembering the MIC and grace can make a great difference not just for you, but for any life you touch at any time. I encourage you to call on MIC and Grace whenever they are needed. After all, what are friends for?