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Vote for God. Vote for Neighbor.

In Matthew 22, Jesus speaks on a familiar theme: the Greatest Commandment. A brief question from his inquirers gets a direct answer."'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,'" he says. "This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'"


Love of God and love of neighbor. In Christian circles, untold amounts of ink (electronic and otherwise) have been spilled repeating and reflecting on these themes. Coming from the mouth of Jesus with unambiguous clarity, these words do not allow much wiggle room for those who initially heard and we who later read.


As a leadoff, love of God seems a fairly uncontroversial statement. This is, after all, Jesus we are talking about here. Love of neighbor, also a biblical theme, is relatively unsurprising. To 21st century Christian ears, both of these commands run the risk of being over-repeated and subsequently under-heard. This is unfortunate, I think. If they are indeed the greatest they ought not to be so quickly glossed over.


I sit here this morning writing in a local coffee shop, thinking about both these words and the times we live in: a season of popular unrest, pandemic, and politics. I, like many of you, watched and listened to last night's debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. I, like many of you, look ahead to more debates with something approaching dread. And I, like many of you, will be called upon in just a few weeks to cast my vote for the highest office in the land as well as the many other questions posed to me on the ballot. What to do? I think what Jesus says here is a place to start.


For those of us to profess Christ, I believe these words from Matthew 22 ought to echo in our ears, especially in the coming month. Love of God and love of neighbor. The greatest commandments. A clear statement from Jesus about what is most important. For my part, I like the twofold nature of what Jesus is saying here. For, lest we be tempted to think that "love of God" can simply be accomplished in our head or heart and have little contact with the outside world, Jesus immediately makes such love tangible. He ties it to the neighbors all around us. Further, if we should think for a moment that love of neighbor is just some kind of humanistic sentimentality, its close rhetorical connection with love of God in this passage raises serious doubts about that too.


Love of God means care for our neighbors--local, national, and global. Love of neighbor ought to be anchored, motivated, and guided by the reality of God and our relationship with God. For the Christian believer, I would consider this to fairly basic teaching. Yet in the realm of cemented-over policy debates, tribalistic politics, power games, and hearts that can cling to conspiracy, suspicion, fear, and hatred, we can lose sight of so much. In the cold, hard calculus of the electoral arena, it seems that love need not be a category we care to consider.


So, to my fellow Christians I say this: as we vote, let's make sure that we listen to Jesus. That we cast our ballots out of a love for God and a love for neighbor. As we make our choices for President, Senator, Governor or whatever, let's not vote motivated by anything but the kind of love to which we are called. As a matter of fact, I challenge you as I challenge myself: if we cannot explain how our votes align with the greatest commandments Christ gives us, we ought to spend some more time pondering or praying about our choice. Because if we do not know what our vote has to do with love, I wonder what we are even doing.

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Joshua Ziefle

Seattle, Washington

joshuaziefle@gmail.com

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