Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 4 November 2012
Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28b-34
Moses tells the people to fear the Lord their God, and then commands them to love the Lord their God. Are these compatible? Generally, that which we fear we do not love. Conversely, it is easy to love someone without fearing them. But that desire which is to be all consuming – to occupy our whole heart and soul and strength – can only be for that which we take very seriously, the mystery at the centre and at the circumference of our whole being. To love God as God demands is not to have God as one love, even the pre-eminent love, among many, but to direct our being toward God and to love all else in the light of that.
Perhaps here we have the two great impulses that connect humanity to the divine mystery. Some emphasise fear and awe, others fascination and love, but the people of God were to hold the two together. In Paul Tillich’s words, the Lord was to be their ultimate concern, the One to whom they surrendered completely and upon whom they centred their lives.
The psalmist loves the Lord as the one who protects and grants victory. It is the experience of God as strength and comfort that draws out the exclamation of love. Here God is not known as a hard taskmaster but as the One who loves us.
The conversation between Jesus and the scribe shows that Jesus had not come to proclaim a different way to approach God, but to call people back to the truth at the centre of the Law. Jesus brings together what people sometimes try to separate – love of God and love of neighbour. To love others truly IS to love God and our wholehearted love of God MUST find expression in loving others. If we say we love God and yet do not love others, we deceive ourselves. To enter the Kingdom of God, to live so that God’s presence is fully realised in our midst, is to love perfectly. The scribe ‘gets’ this. He too realises that religious regulations are not to be pursued in and of themselves, but only as the means to better and purer love.
As Christians, we believe that the God we are called upon to fear and to love comes near to us in Jesus. Jesus is the human face of God. Through him we approach God without terror but we do not do so flippantly. When we take God seriously enough then no other love or fear can draw us away from God. We can truly love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. As we come to know God in Jesus Christ, we can learn that love that casts our fear, not because it takes God less seriously, but because our being becomes more purely centred on God.