Dear friends. On our recent pilgrimage to the holy land, we visited Jerusalem and a place called the ‘Wailing Wall’. It is the last standing wall from the old temple destroyed in 70 AD and is one of the most sacred places of worship for the Jews. There were hundreds of people praying at the wailing wall the day we arrived. Some of the Jews there had unusual dress. Some had a small leather box attached to their foreheads and another on their arm. When we asked what these boxes were they told us that they contained a small parchment with the words of the first reading and Gospel written on them: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one Lord and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength’. Every Jew is required to say this prayer every morning and evening. Wearing the small box containing the prayer is a sign that the prayer be in the head and hands of those who wear it.
To us, this might seem extreme but it does remind us that the two great commandments of love of God and neighbour stand at the heart of both Christianity and Judaism and so links the two religions in a powerful bond. A few words first about the love of God. Note that this is the first commandment above all others. Our first duty is to love God. Why should we do this? Because he is lovable and has loved us first. Through Jesus, God has revealed himself to be loving, beautiful and the truth in person. This is the Word we must listen to when we are asked to ‘Hear O Israel’. Kneeling at the crib or standing before the cross we see God’s love for humanity revealed. Here is the love of God emptied out to the world in humility, the love that comes to meet us and looks for our response.
God is also one God. He is not one god among many. Our worship of him is not only when it suits or if we have time. God is called to occupy first place. We love him first and reject the many false gods that seek to replace him.
We love God ‘with all our heart and soul’. The heart and soul are our inner depths, the wellsprings of our decisions and actions, the conscious centre of ourselves. We love God with our whole selves, not just part of us. ‘With all our minds’ – I love God with all my thoughts and reason. This means that our thinking, emotions and decisions are under the influence of the Holy Spirit and that we always live by what’s true. ‘With all our strength’ – to give everything we have got for its is impossible to love by half.
But people might ask: How do we give ourselves to a reality that we cannot see? This is where the second command of Jesus comes into play. When asked which is the first of all the Commandments, Jesus responded with the traditional prayer ‘Hear O Israel’, but then he added something to the tradition: a second command, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.
There is a strict logic at work here. When you really love someone, you tend to love, as well, what they love. Well, what does God love? He loves everything and everyone that he has made. So, if we want to love God, and we find this move difficult because God seems so distant, love everyone you come across for the sake of God.
Today we pray that we become enflamed again by the Spirit of love that is ignited by God’s love for us. And that we might love again today all those he has created, in his name.