Henri Nouwen writes: “Jesus’ primary concern was to be obedient to his Father, to live constantly in his presence. Only then did it become clear to him what his task was in his relationships with people. This also is the way he proposes for his apostles: “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples” (John 15:8).”
If Nouwen is correct, and I believe most theologians would agree he is, then to be a follower of Jesus literally means to be completely obedient to God. Which is to say do exactly what God wants you to do.
“Perhaps we must continually remind ourselves that the first commandment requiring us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind is indeed the first. I wonder if we really believe this.”
So this begs the question, do we really want to follow Jesus? Do we really, truly believe that our obedience must first and foremost be to God, and the way we do that is in the form of love? Loving God is easy to say with our lips, but not so easy to show with our hands and feet; our lungs, our thoughts, our introspection, our eyelashes, ears, muscles, and intelligence.
It seems that in fact we live as if we should give as much of our heart, soul, and mind as possible to our fellow human beings, while trying hard not to forget God. At least we feel that our attention should be divided evenly between God and our neighbor.
But Jesus’ claim is much more radical. He asks for a single-minded commitment to God and God alone. God wants all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our soul.
This might seem troubling at first, until we realize that what we do to our neighbor, we do also to God (Matthew 25:31-46). I think that’s Nouwen’s point when he said:
It is this unconditional and unreserved love for God that leads to the care for our neighbor, not as an activity that distracts us from God or competes with our attention to God, but as an expression of our love for God who reveals himself to us as the God of all people.
When God is our neighbor, or when we are able to see the divine in those who live and work around us, then we should be able to give every fiber of our being to them. We can love them unconditionally, like God loves us - with steadfast faithfulness - without fear, worry, or a need to receive anything in return.
It is in God that we find our neighbors and discover our responsibility to them. We might even say that only in God does our neighbor become a neighbor rather than an infringement upon our autonomy, and that only in and through God does service become possible.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. "You are the Beloved" (San Francisco: Convergent, 2017)
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”