Scripture: Matthew 22:34-46
The Shema; the first commandment
If you have attended a Jewish service you would hear the prayer known by its first word Shema it starts “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Eḥad. In English that is: Hear O Israel the Lord our God the Lord is one. The next line is the commandment that Jesus quoted in today’s gospel. You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul and strength. It is as familiar to our Jewish friends as the Lord’s prayer is to Christians.
It is the quintessential Jewish statement of faith from Deuteronomy chapter 6:5, and we used it as our affirmation of faith earlier in the service. If you want to hear it said, or rather chanted, in Hebrew as it would be during their service, click on the link above.
The second commandment
Jesus goes on to give a second commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself, also from the Torah (Law) – Leviticus: 19:18. Commentators and preachers offer different opinions about the relationship between these two commandments. Some say: To love God is to love one’s neighbor and vice versa or similarly: Truly to love God is to love the neighbor; truly to love the neighbor is to love God. Others, and I quote from the biblical scholar Daniel Patte who wrote: These two commandments remain distinct; they should not be identified with each other. Loving God should not be reduced to loving one’s neighbor; loving God is an act of love distinct from loving one’s neighbor and vice versa.
Love God vs Love your neighbour
Having listened to quite a few homilies on this text, which appears in Matthew and Mark and in a slightly different form in Luke, I have never been comfortable with the idea that loving God can be reduced to loving one’s neighbour. There has to be more to it than that. Otherwise, what Jesus calls the second commandment is really just a commentary on the first one. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that loving one’s neighbor is not a part of loving God but there must be more required of us, otherwise why include both commandments?
Jesus changes the text
So, what does it mean to love God with the whole of my being? And why did Jesus subtly change the wording of this commandment? The version in Deuteronomy says that we should love God with all our heart, soul and strength; Jesus commands us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind. In Luke’s version strength is also added in, we are we are to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love God with your whole self
Jesus tells us to love God with our heart, soul and mind. In other words, with our whole self. What does this mean? And how does it differ from loving our neighbor? In Luke’s gospel, the follow up question to this commandment is: And who is my neighbor? The answer is the parable of the Good Samaritan. Did the Samaritan love the Jew who got beaten up by robbers with his whole being? I wonder how that could be since they were strangers.
To know God is to love God
When I ponder how to love God, the only comparison I can make, and it’s not a perfect comparison, is: How do we love our nearest and dearest? Think back, and it may be a long time ago for some of us, what it was like when we first realized that we loved the person soon to become our life partner. To be able really to love that person, we need really to know the person. And it’s the same with God. We have to know God with all our heart soul mind, with everything we have and with everything we are.
How to know God
Of course, that’s not the final answer. It just takes us to the next question. how do we get to know the God we cannot see, touch, meet in person? When I was at school, we were taught that, to know or understand a person in a book or play, we should pay attention to what they say, what they do, and what other people say about them.
We have the Bible to help us here as we read about what God said and did; and there we meet Jesus, who said : He who has seen me has seen the Father. As well, we have lots of ways of hearing or reading what other people have said about God. We have to be careful here because these accounts will include the writer’s bias, and many of these accounts contradict each other. In navigating the many different depictions of God, we can be guided by the Christian tradition we follow.
The other tool we have to help us know God it’s our own experience. You may have heard that in the Anglican church we liken how we know God, and and our faith as a three legged stool. Without the legs of scripture, tradition and reason, the stool will fall down.
Franciscan Friar, Richard Rohr, modifies this idea and talks about a tricycle. Christian life is not static, and a tricycle moves. Itsfront wheel drives and guides the direction, the back wheels provide stability. The front wheel is experience while the back wheels are scripture and tradition.
The front wheel, experience, may seem surprising, because neither Orthodox Christians, Catholics, nor Protestants were taught a lot about it. But, we make experience the front wheel because we all filter Scripture and Tradition through our own experience anyway! We cannot not do that. It’s common sense.
Catholics vs Protestants
Today is reformation Sunday, commemorating the start of the Reformation when in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door the church in Wittenberg. This split the Western Church into Catholic and Protestant. One side made an idol out of the Bible (said to be infallible: Sola Scriptura!). The other made an idol out of tradition (placing all confidence in leadership, including the infallibility of the pope under certain conditions).
But they were much the same in their human idolatry of something other than God. Since then, much Christian infighting and misunderstanding has occurred over the Catholic (and Orthodox) emphasis on Tradition versus the Protestant emphasis on Scripture. Tradition usually got confused with small cultural traditions, and the Protestant cry of “Scripture alone!” gradually devolved into each group choosing among the Scriptures it would emphasize or ignore.
Both ways of thinking and believing have their weaknesses and biases. They lacked the dynamic third principle of God experience: personal experience processed and held accountable by both Scripture and Tradition. This is our trilateral (or as I called it above Tricycle) principle. Jesus and Paul clearly use and build on their own Jewish Scriptures and Tradition, yet they both courageously interpret them through the lens of their own unique personal experience of God. This is undeniable! We would do well to follow their examples. The tricycle provides the checks and balances to ensure the God we know through experience is the true God, not one we have created in our own image or copied from some other fallible person’s idea of God.
Love requires relationship. Loving with all our being requires a total relationship involving all we are. We can’t love the God without a relationship with God. Love presumes relationship.
And as we come to know the one true God, our relationship with God will grow and we will learn more about what and how God wants us to love God in everything we say, think or do.
Let us Pray
Loving God, we live, move and have our being in your love, and yet to know you is an ongoing process. Help us to develop an ever more mature relationship with you and to love you more each day. Amen
 Boring (Matthew, New Interpreters Bible P426)
 Hare (Matthew, Interpretation Commentaries p260)
 The Gospel According to Matthew p314