12 July 2019

Loving with all your heart,
all your soul, all your might
… and all your mind

‘What is written in the law?’ … ‘Aleph Male’ a ceramic glazed tile (20x30x1.5 cm) by Joel Itman, depicting Moses with the Ten Commandments and illustrating July 2019 in a Jewish Art Calendar published in Italy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Over the past few days I have been putting the finish touches to next Sunday’s sermon [14 July 2019, Trinity IV]. The Gospel reading is Luke 10: 25-37, and in my sermons in Castletown Church and Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, on Sunday morning I hope to take a second look at the Parable of the Good Samaritan and to explore how we can look at in another way.

I am sure that many of my colleagues are going to focus on this parable too. But it would be a pity to miss out on the first part of the Gospel reading (verses 25-28), in which a lawyer asks Jesus, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Christ turns the question on the lawyer, and instead of giving him an answer asks him two other questions instead, ‘What is written in the law?’ and ‘What do you read there?’

The lawyer answers, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

This answer includes two citations from the Law, one from the Book Deuteronomy and a second from the Book Leviticus.

The first command is: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’ (Deuteronomy 6: 5). This verse follows immediately after the Shema, the basic, fundamental prayer of Judaism, recited constantly and twice daily. The response to hearing God’s word and believing in God is to love God.

The Jewish theologian, Professor Michael Fishbane of the University of Chicago, says this great exhortation is at the heart of the Hebrew Bible. In The Kiss of God (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1996), he adds: ‘These words are also at the heart of Judaism and constitute its religious ideal.’

In Jewish tradition, the word love stipulates loyalty and covenantal relationship. Each of these loves demands all: all my heart, all my soul and all my might. There is a progression here, moving from my heart or mind, to expanding to my soul or life force, and culminating in my might or locus of energy.

But the lawyer interpolates or enhances this verse, quoting it as: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.’

The addition ‘with all your mind’ (ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου, en ole te dianoia sou) is significant. Michael Fishbane believes this is undoubtedly a lost midrashic reading of me’odekha (‘your might’) as mada‘akha (‘your mind’).

The mediaeval Jewish philosopher and theologian Maimonides describes a kenosis or self-emptying in prayer focused on the Shema that sets the mind on the course of loving God with all one’s heart (mind), soul and might. After this discipline is perfected, one is properly prepared to attend to things pertaining to the world.

So, it is consonant with Jewish tradition that the lawyer then moves to citing as the second command: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19: 18).

Rabbi Avika, who lived at the end of the first and beginning of the second century CE, in the midrashic commentary or Sifre on Leviticus, refers to this command as ‘the greatest principle in the Law.’

Christ then echoes a verse in the Law when he tells the lawyer: ‘You have given the right answer; do this and you will live’ (verse 28). Compare this with: ‘You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing this one shall live: I am the Lord’ (Leviticus 18: 5).

The promise of life comes not through inheritance or deeds, but through love – love of God, and love of neighbour.

A portrait of Maimonides in the Sephardic Museum in Córdoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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