A scribe once asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mark 21.28). This Jew was referring, of course, to the Tanach/Tanakh, which was the Jewish Bible. At least in those days and before, Judaism was a religion that was very oriented to a sacred text. And Jesus was regarded as a Torah teacher, which means a recognized teacher of Moses’ Law that is contained in the Tanach. “Torah” generally referred to the first five books of the Jewish Bible, later called “The Pentateuch.”
We further read in the Gospel of Mark (NRSV), “Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord 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 mind, and with all your strength”‘” (Mark 12.29; cf. Matt. 22.37).
Jesus then added, “The second is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12.31; cf. Matt. 22.39). Only Matthew adds that Jesus further explained, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (v. 40).
We read of another time that is documented only by Luke, “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself'” (Luke 10.25-27). So, apparently, this answer was known among Torah teachers in Israel in those days, so that it was not a peculiar teaching only by Jesus.
Remember, a Torah teacher was a teacher of the Law of Moses–the first five books of the Bible. So, this man being “a lawyer” did not mean what our word “lawyer” means today; instead, it meant he was an expert in teaching the Law of Moses, thus a Torah teacher like Jesus. And this man, as Jesus had done with the scribe, had merely joined two Torah texts together. The first is Deuteronomy 6.4-5, and the second is Leviticus 19.18b. The first reads, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The second reads, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But in Luke’s account, he further adds concerning this lawyer, “But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” (Luke 10.29). Jesus then replied by telling his famous parable called “the Good Samaritan” (vv. 30-37). Jesus’ point was that everyone, including Samaritans, were the Jews’ neighbors whom they should love. For, Israel and Samaria were neighboring countries in those days, and Jews hated Samaritans probably more than any racial hatred that exists in the U.S. today.
I live in the hot Sonoran Desert in the State of Arizona. When I moved here, over twenty years ago, I was a believer in so-called “climate change.” That is, I believed scientists were right, that this planet has been heating up due to humans burning fossil fuels in which the emissions get trapped in earth’s atmosphere, called “greenhouse warming.” The temperature of Earth’s atmosphere has increased almost 2 percent since the industrial revolution began. Thus, I believed that my moving to Arizona could eventually become a problem for me. That is, I thought Arizona’s hot summers could get hotter and cause me to think of living somewhere else at least in the summer.
Guess what–it’s happening. This year, 2020, will be the hottest year on record in metro-Phoenix and the entire State of Arizona. This year Phoenix has set the record with 144 days of temperatures over 100 degrees. It has been an oven. And I believe this trend will continue for many years to come because of human-caused global warming.
But a lot of Americans don’t believe that. They are called “climate deniers.” They don’t believe the scientists have it right–that humans’ increasing the burning of fossil fuels for well over a century, now, has caused our planet to heat up. And this disagreement has now entered our two-party political system. Republicans, led by Republican President Donald Trump, are climate deniers; whereas Democrats, now led by former Vice President Joe Biden, who is challenging Trump for the presidency come November 3, only days away, affirm global warming and want to do something about it. I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but an Independent; yet I believe the Democrats are quite right about global warming.
If so, climate deniers are therefore not loving their neighbors as themselves, and the U.S. is the worst culprit. The U.S. has only 4.5% of the world’s population, yet for many years it has been producing 25% of the emissions that cause global warming. The U.S. has been the worst such polluter of all nations in the world because we are the ones who engineered and led the industrial revolution that resulted in such global warming. We have polluted the skies with warmer temperatures more than five times more than the rest of the people in the world. That air pollution also endangers people’s health, such as those who have asthma. That is not loving your neighbor as yourself.
But what about the next generation? We are heating up this planet and therefore giving a hotter, more destructive home, to the next generation of people. That is not loving the next generation. To love the next generation, we should be trying to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. We should be trying to promote the growth of alternative fuels, but especially renewable energy, such solar and wind energy.
Promoting renewable energy is a passion of mine. And it’s not as though I jumped on the climate change band wagon recently. It began in 1973. That’s when the U.S. experienced long lines of cars at the gas pump due to not being able to get gasoline as we had. You see, the U.S. used to be half-dependent on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, referred to as OPEC, for its oil and natural gas needs. And Israel had just won a war fought against its Arab neighbors. They then went and talked to those OPEC countries, most of whom were Arab states located in the Middle East. So, due to Arab hatred toward Israel for not solving the Palestinian problem, OPEC declared it would not sell oil to any of Israel’s trading partners. The U.S. was not only Israel’s #1 trading partner, but its main ally that was helping to keep Israel in existence. The result of this shutting off of the oil spigot was huge surprise–in six months the price of a 55-gallon barrel of oil shot up four times its previous price around the world.
I saw that and it got my attention in two ways. First, I began to think that the U.S. must become energy self-sufficient. That resulted in my becoming an organic vegetable gardener and an advocate of personal, energy self-sufficiency, such as building homes that don’t depend on the grid. But I couldn’t get radical about all of this because of my profession–I still had to drive a car and fly on airplanes to play in PGA Tour golf tournaments. But I may have had some influence on my daughter since her and her husband built a nice, stucco, straw-bale home that was totally energy self-sufficient, being heated with solar energy. Second, I began to learn for the first time about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That resulted in my writing and publishing a book about it in 1990 entitled Palestine Is Coming: The Revival of Ancient Philistia.
So, my penchant for advocating against global warming was a natural outgrowth of my becoming an advocate for the U.S. to become energy self-sufficient. I thought the best way to do that was raise the price of a gallon of gasoline at the pump and use that extra money for projects that would wean the U.S. off foreign oil. But Americans wouldn’t buy it. Thus, we fought a costly war against Iraq because of our thirst for foreign oil.
President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement because he said it was “a bad deal” for the U.S. But he was not willing to allow China to air pollute more than the U.S. even though we had been doing that a lot more than China and for a lot longer time than China in those many previous decades. It’s all about what is fair, and the rest of the nations of the world had agreed that the past needed to be considered in order to come to a fair agreement. But Trump wanted to ignore our past.
If Joe Biden wins the presidency, a big plank in his platform will be the growth of renewable energy and getting the U.S. off of oil consumption, period. That will be loving your neighbor as yourself.
[Incidentally, I’ve blogged numerous times about the book of Revelation in the Bible saying concerning God at the end of the age, “The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11.18). Thus, God will hold humans responsible as custodians of this planet where he put them.]