Living by Heart
When Jesus commands us to love God and neighbor with our whole hearts, he is not the first to pair the two loves. The apocryphal book The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs refers frequently to loving the Lord and the neighbor. In Luke's Gospel the lawyer who questions Jesus is the one who identifies these two commandments (Luke 10:27). (Hare, Interpretation, 259)
In the first century, there were two competing rabbinical schools, that of Hillel and that of Shammai. As the story goes, once there was a Gentile who came before Shammai and said to him, "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying, "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it." http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/hillel.html
What Does It Mean to Love God with Our Whole Heart?
Loving God and loving our neighbor with our whole heart is more than just having positive emotions about them. I'm reminded of all the weddings I've performed in which I've said to the bride and groom, "Jane, will you love John?" and "John, will you love Jane?" Not, "Do you love?"
Feelings. Nothing more than feelings? Loving God with your heart means bringing everything to God. The heart in Hebrew and N.T. understanding is the home of emotions, also of decision making. It is the home of caring, but also of character, commitment, creativity, and carry-through. To love God with your whole heart means to love God with everything you've got! Here are some examples of what the Bible has to say about what the heart is and what it does:
- Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
- Blessed are the pure in heart.
- Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
- I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Ps 9:1).
- God knows the secrets of the heart (Ps 44:21).
- My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps 73:26).
- 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. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart (Deut 6:4-5).
- You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead (Deut 11:18).
The scribe comes today to give Jesus his heart. In this action, he shows himself to be a better disciple than the disciples. In Mark, the disciples don't love Jesus with their whole hearts. They love themselves and seek prestige. But other people actually do a better job of following Jesus' words, including those who seek out the Savior and bring him their whole hearts with contents good and bad. They are the paralytic's friends who make a hole in the roof to lower their friend to Jesus (Mark 2). They are the poor troubled man living among gravestones in Gerasene who ran to Jesus and cried out to him in his torment (Mark 5). They are the woman who brings a jar of alabaster ointment and anoints Jesus with sweet perfume (Mark 14). They are the scribe who is supposed to know everything, but comes to Jesus with his question—not to trick him, but to find out the answer so he can build his life around it.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.
You may also be interested in these stories:
- In the Name of YHWH? Reflections on 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-39
- Denomination, Community, and Culture: A Conversation with Bishop Andy Doyle on the Episcopal Church, Part One
- The Spin Is In: Reflections on Clinton, Bush, David, and 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
- Stepping Bravely Into the Future: A Conversation with Bishop Andy Doyle on the Episcopal Church, Part Two