I’ve started a new book, and in the introduction, the author, Greg Ogden, quotes a Hasidic piece of advice that says you should go about with a piece of paper in each pocket, with one that reads “I am dust and ashes,” and the other, “For me the world was created.” What a fine paradox.
Let me just quote the first introductory section:
Would Jesus ask something of us that couldn’t be done?
At the center of all the biblical commands and at the very core of “everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), Jesus declares that we are to love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbors in the same way that we cherish ourselves.
Really? Is this possible?
The energy behind the writing of this curriculum comes from an insight that is quite frankly embarrassing. It is embarrassing because I should know better. At first, the insight doesn’t seem very dramatic. In fact, every time I have shared this personal “revelation” with others I have been sheepishly apologetic. But here is the amazing truth: Jesus actually thinks we can become like him. Jesus actually believes that it is possible for frail and deeply flawed human beings to focus our complete affection on God and others.
The key word here for me is possible. I had unconsciously given up the possibility of actually doing what Jesus commanded. No, I had never consciously thought or said, “Jesus, I think you’re an idealistic dreamer,” or “Jesus, you can only expect so much from flawed humanity.” I was not even aware that I had dismissed Jesus’ belief in me. But what had taken over my spirit in my attempt to be authentic was a focus on where I had fallen short of Jesus’ call. In my desire to make sure that I was not deceiving myself about my capacity for sin, I had given up the upside possibility that the character of Jesus could actually take over my life.
[Jesus didn’t follow up his Great Commandments] by saying, “I know I’m asking a lot, but do the best you can. I know you’ll never fully approximate this high and lofty goal, but it’s still worth striving for.” No, I added that part myself. In my spirit I washed out the possibility that this could actually be, saying, “I know the guy dwelling in this body all too well. Not a chance that this weak and feeble individual could ever approximate Jesus’ expectation.”
Besides that he used the word “cherish” – one of my personal favourites – doesn’t the rest of this whole passage make you want to read more? A great introduction if I ever read one. Rather deft writing technique too, as his claim that this was his own embarrassing realization disarmingly invited me to have that embarrassing revelation too. Well, the title is The Essential Commandment: A Disciple’s Guide to Loving God and Others.