Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt 22:34-40 (NIV)
As a child, I can recall standing up straight, hand over heart to repeat these words with great solemnity at the beginning of each school day. They were almost like a bible verse in my third- grade mind. There were (and are) very important words.
I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands. One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Next Sunday is Flag Day. This is the day we celebrate (or more likely ignore), the anniversary of the adoption of the flag of the USA on June 14, 1777. As I grew up I moved beyond the concern about pledging as idolatry for a symbol to understand that “to the republic for which it stands,” is a kind of short-hand or abbreviation for the US Constitution including the Bill of Rights and our ideals that each person is created equal and should be permitted to flourish seeking “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In seventh grade, we memorized the Preamble to the US Constitution. The Preamble sets out the purpose of the US Constitution.
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
In recent days, I have often come back to these words, especially “Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility and blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”. These are political words, yes but they also ring true as words of faith. While Americans surely hold separation of church and state as a high value, American culture and Christianity do share some common values.
For all of my adult life, Jesus’ response to the lawyer’s question about the most important commandment has been a key life verse for me. It also contains some shorthand, that is a referent to something more. Here “All of the Laws and all of the Prophets hang on these two commandments” is a reference to the Old Testaments. (Laws being the Torah-first five books and the Prophets being the rest of the bible as it was in the first century). I understand that Christians are to read and live out the Scriptures in the way that shows that we love God and our neighbors. In my mind, this is what it means to be an American Christian.
I pledge my heart to Jesus and to the commands for which he stands.