Deuteronomy 34:1-12 Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 Matthew 22:34-46
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We continue today with the Pharisees questioning Jesus. Last week it was the Sadducees asking about taxation. They were secular Jews, so their question was apropos. Pharisees on the other hand were punctilious religious people, so it is in character for them to ask about the greatest of the Commandments, they wouldn’t want to waste their time on the six hundred and thirteenth Commandment before accomplishing the first. It’s very interesting that they ask Jesus His opinion, I don’t think it was a trap, they truly respected His teaching. You recall some Pharisees, St. Paul among them, believed in Jesus.
So the first Commandment “Love God, the Great Saviour”. Jesus teaches how we are to apply this Commandment to our belief and behaviour. We are not meant to be static, saying “ok” to it and then getting on with our lives. Our God is not like the fickle, self-interested pagan gods the Romans and Greeks worshipped, and other modern religions too. Our God is involved in His Creation. Because we are made in His image we share in some of God’s qualities. One quality is we like to be loved, I hope none of us would ever say “I don’t want to be loved”. The truth is we want to be loved and often will put up with a lot, just to be loved. God loves us and is very tolerant. Although God doesn’t need love, I am sure He wants to be loved.
So how ? Love comes in many flavours and that is a good thing. And Jesus tells us what motivates, powers and sustains love.
First of all we are to love with all our Heart. Now the Heart is a funny thing, it gets an idea, a feeling, a longing and will often cause us to go wild and become irrational over someone or something, that’s desire masking itself as Love. We often associate that with first love, teenage love but you know it can happen throughout life, it’s just later in life we don’t have the other abilities necessary to sustain it. Jesus gets into those too later. The Heart then is not rational but is our ultimate pleasure seeker. We are to seek God with all our Heart and receive the ultimate pleasure our faith can yield by knowing Him and wanting to be with Him.
Then there is our Soul. This is the part of us that knows right from wrong, that puts us on the right path, it guides us on our quest in seeking God. When to achieve our Heart’s desire we have to meet challenges our Soul is the part of us that says sacrifice and struggle may be the Way. Loving God is not the easiest way to live, it’s just the most rewarding, and our Soul is the bit of us that knows that. Why else would so many saints have suffered persecution, certainly not because of the other qualities we have like Strength and Mind. Strength would enable us to run away like crazy and Mind would tell us we were crazy. We must listen to our Soul and love God.
Mark’s and Luke’s Gospel accounts of this story include Strength (Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27) so I will include it here because it is more familiar to us in the Shema “Hear O Israel” of Morning Prayer – so then Strength. Paul likens our life’s faith journey to a race (2 Timothy 4:7). To run takes strength and endurance. I am always so impressed when I watch a marathon race, mile after mile, hour after hour of running faster than I could continue to run over ten yards. Those athletes have Heart, Soul and Strength and the next quality too to endure and run the race. That’s how we are to be.
The last quality Jesus describes is our Mind. We need Mind to control our love-behaviour. It’s the thing that stops us from doing the irrational, it stops us from being too rabbit like, and causes us to think about how to love with care and feeling for the object of our desire. Mind, having recognised our heart’s desire, understands the tensions involved in every desire and knowing we have the ability to sustain our Love, says “Go ahead, love and live life to the fullest”. So we do, all as blessed by God.
But this is not a world where we are alone left to worship God and do nothing else, no, this is a world of billions of people who need the same things we need, the most important of which is God. So Jesus cites the second Commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
One of the things I think we have all experienced about Love, is that we want to share it with others. If you read a good book, or see a good show or movie, we naturally want to tell others about it. If the love of our life has just said “Yes” we just have to tell everyone about it. And that’s because you share the same values as your love. If you like the plot of a story, it’s because you identify with it, and you will arrange your life to reflect it. That’s where Jesus is going with this.
God is the only God there is, if you love God you will try to be like God in your thoughts and actions. There’s only one God but there’s billions of us. It is natural that we would want to let them know about the God we love, with all our Heart, Soul, Strength and Mind and that we will use those faculties to do it. God cares not only about us but for the whole of humankind (not forgetting the rest of His Creation, the animals, the plants ) so it is natural that if we are to try and be like God we would love those He loves – our neighbours. Now loving everyone is an impossible job for us humans we will live our lives doing the very best we can always running to gain the prize but we will always leave our work incomplete. Take Moses the great prophet. He had struggled for eighty years bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land, yet he was not going to enter it with them. God allowed him to see the Promised Land, in what’s known as a Pisgah Vision, and maybe that is the best we can expect because a greater reward lies beyond our current vision. So live and love the life we are called to, follow the Commandments and leave the rest to God. Amen.