Jesus was asked once, “What is the greatest commandment?” This was a common exercise among teachers and other religious leaders during Jesus’ time and not a trap, as was often the case when Jesus was approached with such questions. In response, Jesus quoted from two places in the Torah. The first is from the Shema, perhaps the holiest text in Judaism, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is One. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The second is found in Leviticus 19:18, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
As rich and complex as the Bible is – it can nonetheless be narrowed down to some very basic truths (for instance: Love God, love neighbor). Another truth that undergirds the Bible from beginning to end is that what happens inside us (our thoughts, motives, intentions) are more important to God than what can be easily seen by others.
Over and over again, we see it’s not the actions of the Biblical characters – however noble or ignoble – that ultimately determines God’s judgment, but their internal motivations. That is how someone who made as many mistakes as David could still be called “a man after God’s own heart.” Certainly, David could be described as an imperfect king and, at times, even a flagrant sinner. But David was also quick to recognize his sin, repent, and seek God’s will for himself and Israel. One has to assume it wasn’t only his actions that made David God’s beloved – but his faithfulness. David was motivated, more than anything, by his love for God and his desire to please God.
Jesus even went so far, in his Sermon on the Mount, to take the commandments governing our behavior (Thou shall not kill, commit adultery, etc.) to another level. He said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”(Matthew 5:21-22). In other words, what happens on the outside isn’t nearly as important as what is going on inside. Indeed, as Jesus explains, what goes on inside us will inevitably make its way to the surface in one form or another.
There’s an old story about a grandfather explaining to his grandson how there are two wolves within each of us, each vying for control – one evil and one good. When the grandson asks which of the wolves wins, the grandfather replies, “the one you feed.”
We are human – imperfect and prone to sin. However, it is still up to us to monitor our own motives and intentions
(and not anyone else’s, which is beyond our abilities anyway). God is paying attention to which of the wolves we are feeding. For some, that is good news. For others… not so much.