This past summer, America lost one of its most beloved self-help gurus, Stephen Covey, the author of the best-selling The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you’ve read the book, you might remember that Habit #3 is to “put first things first.”
Covey understood this as such a crucial idea that he wrote another book that is dedicated to just this one habit. According to Covey, one of the key concepts within the realm of prioritizing is to identify the tasks and goals in our lives that are 1) Urgent, 2) Not Urgent, 3) Important and 4) Not Important.
Most people (often unknowingly) give most of their energy to “urgent but not important” things (like updating your Facebook status with pictures of your child, pet or dinner – notice how the definition of “urgent” can be quite subjective).
Instead, Covey urges his readers to focus more time and give more attention to the “important but not urgent” areas in our daily lives (like spending time with loved ones or helping out a neighbor).
In this week’s passage, a scribe who appears to be seeking a way to prioritize the many tenets of his faith approaches Jesus and asks, “Which commandment is the first of all?” If Jesus cared to be more political or impartial, he would’ve said something like, “I can’t choose between the commandments because they’re all important.” But no, Jesus isn’t shy about putting first things first, and he boldly claims what is most important by offering this succinct answer: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus’ response gleans from two places in the Hebrew Scriptures: Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
Deuteronomy 6:5 says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Leviticus 19:18 says: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”
Not only does Jesus omit the disclaimer “anyone among your people,” but in the Gospel of Luke’s rendition, Jesus clarifies what “neighbor” really means. In the tenth chapter of Luke, a lawyer, being the judicious fellow that he is, asks Jesus to clearly define what he means by the term “neighbor.” And in reply Jesus offers the story of the Good Samaritan.
Samaritans were hated by Jesus’ target audience, the Jews, and so, by naming a Samaritan as the “good neighbor” of his parable, Jesus elevates and evolves the law in Leviticus to the next level. He affirms that it is not enough to care for only “your people,” but that your neighbor is truly any and every one in need of mercy – even those you love to hate.
For Jesus, to love God and neighbor is not only important, it is urgent. I wonder what our world would look like and I wonder how our daily lives would change, if we too understood the importance and embraced the urgency.
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