I used to teach at St Albans which is next to Birmingham Central Mosque. The majority of pupils were Moslem boys. I taught English and R.E, including Islam.
One of my pupils asked to borrow a Bible. I lent him my RSV and surprisingly he read it from cover to cover. When he returned it he had ripped off Holy from the cover and written over one of the passages about women being silent the words, “Why don’t you do it?”
For him literally obeying the Koran, some of which has been taken from our Bible, would make him a good Moslem and acceptable to God. He believed his book came straight from Allah and had been dictated by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Mohammed. As I was a Christian, he felt I needed to obey my text in a similar way.
He was behaving in much the same way as the Pharisees in our gospel reading who were testing Jesus trying to catch him out.
They had a legalistic understanding of the Old Testament. Their relationship with God and standing within Judaism was predicated upon their keeping of the minutiae of the law as found in the first five books of the Bible. They had been so caught up in the particulars that they had missed the reasons the law was there in the first place, to enable us to love God and our neighbour.
In the past many Christians have treated the Bible in a similar way to Orthodox Jews and Moslems. Instead of looking at the historical context in which texts have been written, and the need for women and slaves to obey those over them if they were to survive, they have attempted to preserve the cruel cultures of those times. As a result women, slaves, homosexuals, and people of colour have often been treated cruelly.
The Bible is not the Christian equivalent to the Koran. Jesus Christ is the Christian equivalent to the Koran.
For the Muslim, the Koran is the absolute Word of God. For Christians, Jesus Christ is the absolute Word of God.
We love and respect the Bible because the Holy Spirit inspires and teaches us through reading the written text. Through it we learn how to have a relationship of love with God and our neighbour. But we do not revere the Bible. We revere Jesus. We do not worship the Bible. We worship God.
Our gospel is the final attempt to wrong foot Jesus before having him crucified. Jesus had silenced the Sadducees who attempted to make him look stupid by trying to prove there was no resurrection. Jesus used their sacred book to show that If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob then they must be alive because he is the God of the living not of the dead.
The Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection, were trying to wrong foot Jesus by asking him which was the greatest commandment, a much debated question amongst the academics of the day.
Jesus responds using part of the Jewish statement of faith found in Deuteronomy 6. It is called the Shema. All Jews were called to recite it on a daily basis, place it on their doorposts and bind it upon their hands and foreheads.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
No Jew could disagree. Jesus then adds a verse from Leviticus. “You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The ancient rabbis agreed. They taught, "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Law."
Jesus tells us that all the law and the prophets are contained in those two verses. We cannot love God unless we love our neighbour.
God’s will for our lives is that we love him and each other deeply. It is an act of will which requires action; more than an emotional response.
We cannot love and treat certain categories of people shamefully. We are called to love others as Jesus loves us
We are not supposed to try and catch each other out when debating scripture but through our worship and love hold together as one.
What does it mean to love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength in these difficult times when we are made aware of how much suffering is going on around the world and here in the UK Britain?
The Shema starts with the words, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” Muslims likewise begin their prayer with the words of the Shahada, “There is no God but God.” Both religions are strictly monotheistic. Yahweh for Jews and Allah for Moslems require devoted worship and obedience.
Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, earlier in the week and been hailed as the Messiah, the Son of David who would save the Jews. In this passage he attempts to broaden the Pharisees idea of God. He asked them whose son the Messiah was. They responded, “The Son of David.” The Jews were expecting an exceptional human being to come and save them.
Jesus leads them to Psalm 110 where David calls the Messiah Lord who sits at God’s right hand.
If Jesus is the Messiah sent by God to defeat his foes, then he is also our Lord who sits at the right hand of God. Loving the Lord our God with all our being therefore includes loving and worshipping Jesus.
As Christians, we also believe the Lord our God is one God, a unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we worship and pray we picture Jesus. When we look at what Jesus said and did we have the advantage of seeing what God is like.
We see in 1 Thessalonians and in the words of Jesus that we need to proclaim and share God’s love, to tell others about how much Jesus loves them and how he died for them.
We are also called to show God’s love through our loving actions, caring for those who are sick, helping those in need, rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn.
Christian love is demanding. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”
The Shema in Deuteronomy uses the word strength instead of mind. Jesus is talking to a teacher of the law, a man who has devoted himself to developing knowledge of God. Is Jesus saying, “You work mainly with your mind. Bring everything you are, every aspect of your personality, all your work, passion, learning, everything that God has made you to be. Use it all to love him?”
God wants all of us, not just a part. We are called to love God unconditionally and wholeheartedly, without any reservation.
Jesus quoted a commandment we will never be able to keep in our own strength. Because God loved us first, he always forgives and accepts us back. But that mustn’t stop us giving ourselves afresh to God each day and renewing our commitment to a life of discipleship and true love for God.
Christian love is unconditional towards others. The command to love our neighbour is more than loving those who are similar to us.
Loving our neighbour means loving those who are antagonistic towards us. Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount and the actions of the “Good Samaritan” that we were to love those who hate us. Jesus showed that love by dying on the cross for us and for those Jews who had spent much time trying to trap him.
That’s tough! Jewish and Islamic understanding of justice from sacred texts meant they were unable to love their enemies. They quoted texts such as, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” For followers of Jesus costly loving kindness and mercy trumps human justice.
Finally, Christian love is self-accepting. God loves you.
If we can’t love ourselves, we will find it very difficult to love others. Each one of us is beautiful, lovely and lovable in God’s eyes.
Love defines Christians. Followers of Jesus choose to love God with all of their beings in their worship and love of all people. They share the good news of Jesus with others and invite them to accept him as their Lord. Such love is self-accepting. We don’t love so that God will love us; we love because God has loved us in Christ with the greatest love we will ever know.