The readings of this weekend take us to the core of human dignity. What does it mean to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind? As if that is not enough, Jesus goes on to add, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). This discourse forms the crux of his conversation with the lawyer, as presented in Matthew’s gospel.
Let’s approach this reflection by looking at the meaning of Exodus 22:20-26, in the light of the Hebrews’ impression of heart, mind, and soul. In Exodus 22, Moses challenges the Jews to respect aliens, widows, and orphans in their midst, who represent the downtrodden. Each of these are on the margins of society. Aliens are strangers. Widows have no husbands. Orphans are without parents. These are mostly vulnerable and dependent on the support of others to survive. Moses warns the Israelites, “Thus says the Lord: If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword…”
Earlier on, the Israelites already committed to a covenant relationship with God whereby they pledge their love for him. The covenant relationship warrants doing God’s will, which above all, involves respecting the dignity of aliens, widows, and orphans. It is easy to respect some influential persons in the society because of their wealth and social status, but to respect the poor is mostly lacking.
When the Jewish scholar of the law comes to Jesus with the question about which commandment is the greatest, Jesus evokes what they already know in the Torah, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
Pope John Paul 11 speaks to his general audience on 13 October 1999 about this passage, “The Book of Deuteronomy recalls two essential characteristics of this love. The first is that man would never be capable of it, if God did not give him strength through "circumcision of the heart" (cf. Dt 30: 6), which frees it from every attachment to sin. The other is that this love, far from being reduced to sentiment, is concretely expressed by "walking in the ways" of God and by keeping "his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances.” This is the condition for "life and good", while turning the heart to other gods leads to "death and evil.” Two points to note here: “circumcision of the heart” and love beyond mere sentiments.
Ancient Hebrew considers the person's heart (mind/emotions), their breath (soul/life), and the body (strength) as three interrelated aspects to a being. For the Jews, to love God with their entire being is guaranteed by the law. This Jewish observance can be said to be somewhat sentimental, hence, they treat different categories of persons differently (lepers as outcast, blind persons as sinners, women as less valued, and the poor as denigrated). Whether they understand that they love their fellow humans (every human) as they love themselves is uncertain. This accounts for Moses’ defense of aliens, widows, and orphans. Hence Jesus takes them on this demand, “The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We can read this to also mean, “You shall love your fellow human being with your heart, soul, and mind.”
There is much debate today about the relationship between heart, mind and soul. From the social sciences, we read:
“Mind is the activity of the thinking self using logic and/or reason to arrive at insights and conclusions about people, events, belief systems and life. Heart is the activity of the feeling self using intuition, emotional touch or grasp and subjective reaction to arrive at insights and conclusions about people, events, belief systems and life. Soul is the intertwining of the mind and the heart. Soul is the complex of all our knowing and believing. Soul is the complete activity of the inner person. Soul is the representation of who we are on the inside, the summation of our thoughts and feelings.”
However, Jesus goes beyond cognitive representation of self to demand that we love as God commands. Love goes to the essence of our being. Again, Pope John Paul 11 says, “Charity is the essence of the new "commandment" that Jesus taught. In fact, it is the soul of all the commandments, whose observance is further confirmed and indeed becomes a clear proof of one's love for God: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (1 Jn 5: 3). Love for God, made possible by the gift of the Spirit, is therefore based on the mediation of Jesus, as he himself says in his priestly prayer: "I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them" (Jn 17: 26).
Do you wonder why authentic love seems to be missing in today’s world? The answer is that we can only love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, if we enter into deep relationship with him. The same applies to loving our fellow human beings as ourselves. The commandments of God inspire our hearts to feel God’s presence, without which we cannot love as God wants. They enlighten our minds to proper knowledge of God. They uplift our souls to portray God’s image, to do the will of God. If we want to love as God loves, then we must abide by his commandments. We must stay close to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary who loved to the point of giving everything for the sake of God.
Let me use this very poor analogy of my love for soccer to drive this point. My love for soccer makes me look forward to watching this game so much. Each time I watch my soccer team, Chelsea, for instance, I do so with my heart, mind, and soul. I feel like I’m fully present with my entire being. My heart feels the emotions of the players, the noises from the fans, and the entire atmosphere in the stadium. Their loss makes me sad while their victory produces in me great joy. My mind helps me to analyze the actions of the players and the tactics of the game, blames for loss and praises for victory. My soul stays in the entire game, making me believe in the team, no matter what happens. This is why I haven’t left Chelsea to date, despite their lack luster performances in recent years.
We all might have something we love that much, which can also help us to measure our love for God and for others. How much is your heart, mind, and soul in your relationship with God? How much is your mind, heart, and soul available for others? Maybe God is asking us for more.
Readings: 1st- Ex. 22:20-26; 2nd- 1 Thess. 1:5-10; Gospel- Matt. 22:34-40