“Love the Lord your God"
By The Rev. Harvey Hillin. St. Michaels & St. Andrew's, Hays
A small boy goes to his father and asked: “Dad, where did I come from?” The father pauses, then tells the traditional Genesis story of Adam and Eve and their descendants down through history. The small boy then goes to his mother with the same question and she tells him the evolutionary science story about people descending from Neanderthals and primates like chimps and gorillas. The small boy goes back to his father and complains that the father lied to him, based on what his mom just told him. At that point, the father says” No, I didn’t lie
. Your mom’s just telling you about her side of the family tree!” As a young child I heard it said that “Hillin’s always married up!” As I got older, I realized that wasn’t really a compliment. It’s easy to place a lot of stock in family connections, and maybe just as easy to realize that each family has its own
baggage to deal with. The passage from Jeremiah tells us God shapes us like a potter shapes clay, and (quite frankly) will do so again. We are being transformed and life as we know it, is not the end of the line. The Psalm reminds us that God knows us much more intimately than family. We have a family BIGGER than we can possibly imagine.
When preachers see this gospel passage popping up, it’s often time to: 1) skip to another lesson; 2) plan a hasty vacation and let the lay readers deal with it; 3) find a guest preacher or hapless seminarian to deal with it; or 4) ignore that “H” word (HATE) and skip merrily on to something less burdensome. Some of us might be bold enough to wonder where was his mother to wash his mouth out with soap for saying such a thing? We might ponder: “Surely there’s more than enough hatred in this world already, why in God’s name would Jesus want us to hate?” And besides, “Isn’t this the same Jesus who told us to love our enemies? Now we’re supposed to hate family! What is this all about?” Furthermore, one of the Ten Commandments tells us to honor our father and mother, not hate them! These contradictions may even give us a headache!
However, take heart! We can relax, take a deep breath and chill. What we have here, is a FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE! Biblical Hebrew lacks exactly defined comparisons (i.e., 'more than' or 'less than'). Modifiers and degrees of measure did not exist in ancient Hebrew. Instead it tends to express two things which may be comparatively of different degree like 'first' and 'second' as extremes such as 'first' and 'last'. In this way love and hate whilst appearing as opposites may just mean 'love more' and 'love less'. Bible versions struggle with the phrase "hate" (for this reason) and some adopt "unloved" or "disliked", as softer phrases. The Hebrew sânê' is the opposite of love which could mean 'non-election'. This contrast is the same in Genesis 29:31 between Leah and Rachel. Just because Leah was loved more, doesn’t mean that Rachel was hated.
Think of today’s gospel passage as Jesus giving us a reminder that the is family in the lower case, and there is FAMILY in the uppercase in relation to God. He is also reminding us that the Ten Commandments are written in priority order. Think of this as His reminder to us of the ABSOLUTE PRIORITY of the FIRST COMMANDMENT. Without our “doing” the FIRST COMMANDMENT, it is impossible to abide by the other 9 commandments anyway. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul.” This love is something more than mere affection. We cannot treat our emotions as “truth,” because emotions ebb and flow. In the words of CS Lewis: “There is no disguising the fact that goodness, patience, self-denial, humility, and the continual intervention of a far higher sort of love than Affection, in itself, can ever be. If we try to live by affection alone, Affection will “go bad” on us.”
What Jesus may be telling us is that the ONLY, RELIABLE, TRUSTWORTHY SOURCE OF LOVE is GOD. God is LOVE. Without God, we cannot be truly loving of anyone else. God is the foundation and source of love.
Psalm 139 is a marvelous affirmation that we are known by God in intimate and inextricable relationship. Jeremiah tells us we are shaped and transformed (like clay) by God. This passage from Jeremiah could be the basis of a science fiction movie reminding us that we are all being transformed and “shape shifted” whether we recognize it or not. God isn’t finished with us, and God is calling us to a much larger sense of family than we can ever imagine. It is this insight that lies at the heart of Paul’s letter to Philemon about the slave Onesimus. Paul suggests that the ties that bind persons as brothers and sisters in Christ transform traditional social patterns, including slavery (see vs. 15–16). Paul is asking the early church to treat immigrants and slaves as brothers and sisters, which was quite a stretch for ancient people centered on clan and family and tribe. I can imagine the native American Indians watching the pilgrims stepping on to Plymouth Rock and saying “Well, there goes the neighborhood!” In short, belonging to God shapes the way in which we belong to others, overshadowing our clannishness, our
attachments, our habit of making comparisons, and our worries or fears.
Perhaps Jesus is telling us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul” will transform and expand our attachments and allow our fears and anxieties about not “fitting in” not “being connected” about not “being enough” float away like balloons or bubbles when we ask for the peace of God.