Monday, 31 December 2012

Love is all you need?

Jesus is said to have summed up the entire Christian life in terms of love: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great­est com­mand­ment. The sec­ond is like it: ‘Love your neigh­bor as your­self.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two com­mand­ments” (Mat 22.37–40).

But Jesus didn't actually say that! Shock! Horror! It was the expert in the Law who says them. Jesus agrees with the answer (Lk. 10.28), but he’s not the one who actu­ally puts forth that trans­la­tion of Deuteronomy 6.5. In Matthew 22.37 Jesus does say “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and in Mark 12.30 he says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (NIV2011) We have in the Gospels three cita­tions of Deuteronomy 6.5 (two of them spo­ken by Jesus) and each uses dif­fer­ent word­ing.

 But regard­less of whether or not these are accounts of the same event, we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the exact words that Jesus spoke, or even know if they were orig­i­nally in Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. The gospel authors record Jesus’ mes­sage in Greek (a dynamic trans­la­tion?) but for the most part we sim­ply don’t know pre­cisely what Jesus said. The mes­sage that the Gospel writ­ers are try­ing to con­vey is that Jesus replied by quot­ing Deuteronomy 6.5:

Deuteronomy 6:5
You must love the LORD your God
with all your heart (leb),
all your soul (nephesh),
and all your strength (me’od).
Luke 10:27
You must love the LORD your God
with all your heart (kar­dia),
all your soul (psy­che),
all your strength (ischus),
and all your mind (dianoia).

These com­mandments cap­tures the essence of who we are. We can’t fully love God, we can't fully love ourselves or others,  if we only love emo­tion­ally, we can’t fully love  if we only  offer intel­lec­tu­ally sup­port  — we can only truly and fully love [God] if we do so with every­thing we have.

These com­mands aren’t sim­ply feel-good plat­i­tudes, they are a pow­er­ful call toembrace a spe­cific and active love. The real­i­ties of life chal­lenge love at every turn, and love alone, as a dis­em­bod­ied feel­ing adrift on the Platonic ether, can­not save us. But love as a prac­tice, love as a way of life, love as an expe­ri­ence of God, love that encom­passes the total­ity of God’s plan — that love can save us. Love requires par­tic­i­pa­tion, it requires main­te­nance, it requires atten­tion: “Above all, main­tain con­stant love for one another, for love cov­ers a mul­ti­tude of sins” (1 Pet. 4.8).

Love doesn’t obvi­ate other aspects of a Christian life, love holds those aspects together. Love is not a soli­tary require­ment, it is the thread that uni­fies and empow­ers all the other require­ments. If we don’t have love, noth­ing else works. If we don’t show love, we can’t expect to receive it. If we don’t love God, how can we hope to love our neigh­bor? “But love your ene­mies, and do good, and lend, expect­ing noth­ing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High because he is kind to ungrate­ful and evil peo­ple. Be mer­ci­ful, just as your Father is mer­ci­ful” (Luke 6.27–36).

Love is a means of relationship - not only between human beings, but between humans and the rest of nature. Having been privelaged to be at the birth of my kitten and seeing the love, the nurturing between the new mother and her kittens, and between Ginger - my kitten - and myself there is more than just just chemical impulses and pheremones. Love is also the means by which the Divine, all that is Holy can be related to.
  “All you need is love” may be inac­cu­rate in a strict sense, but to those who accuse some of us of putting an inor­di­nate amount of empha­sis on love, one must remem­ber that it was Jesus him­self who set the prece­dent. Love, prop­erly enacted and expressed, sub­sumes the dis­trac­tions of the­ol­ogy and over­pow­ers our per­sonal ten­den­cies to judge and criticize.