Say and Do: context

1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. 3 Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens (hard to carry) and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. 5 All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6 They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, 7 greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ 8 As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. 10 Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Continue reading

Dating Advice


I am always somewhat bemused when folks ask me for dating advice. Is it that they see in me a font of wisdom, experience, and a treasure chest of great advice?…, yeah…OK…that passes pretty quickly. More apropos is the naval expression: “any port in a storm.” The storm of dating confusion is upon them and I happen to be the nearest port; and that’s ok. If you are a parish priest long enough, you have had this conversation hundreds of time and often you know how the different stories turns out. So, perhaps there is a wealth of advice in the stories. Continue reading


Henry David Thoreau said  “Nature abhors a vacuum.” I suspect most of us have heard that bit of wisdom, but that is not the end of Thoreau’s thought. The full quote is “Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I can only walk this life with sufficient carelessness I am sure to be filled.” I was inspired by the full quote to reflect on a gospel several Sundays ago. It is the bane of our modern existence that there seems to be so much to do and so little time to it all. But then, you are never going to do it all, but what you do – is it aligned with God’s desire for you and are you willing to commit to see it through to its good and fruitful end? “But I don’t have time!” comes the reply. Certainly, far less elegant than Thoreau, but I did run across another quote that gave me a chuckle. “‘But I don’t have time’ is the adult equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework.’ ” We are called to be careful about how we fill up our lives with commitments. Continue reading

Love’s Demands: action

Love Means…. What? Although the Sermon on the Mount has already included an extensive section of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples on love as fundamental to the life of discipleship (5:21–48), in this concluding encounter with his opponents Matthew gives Jesus another opportunity to summarize the core of his teaching (as 7:12). There, the teaching was to his disciples; here, it is to his opponents, in the controversy situation showing his orthodoxy as an advocate of the whole of the Law and the Prophets. Since Matthew here focuses on the argumentative aspect of the scene, he does not develop the theological issues that interest the contemporary interpreter (cf. Luke, who relocates the passage, 10:25–28): (1) the meaning of “love,” (2) the meaning of “neighbor,” and (3) the meaning of Jesus’ responding with two commands.

While Jesus quotes two OT passages (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18), it is interesting that commentators offer different opinions about the relationship between these two commandments. Here is but a sample:

  • Patte (The Gospel According to Matthew) writes: “… these two commandments remain distinct. They should not be identified with each other. Loving God should not be reduced to loving one’s neighbor! Loving God is an act of love distinct from loving one’s neighbor, and vice versa” [p. 314].
  • Boring (Matthew, New Interpreters Bible) writes: “To love God is to love one’s neighbor, and vice versa (25:31-46)” [p. 426]
  • Hare (Matthew, Interpretation Commentaries): “Truly to love God is to love the neighbor; truly to love the neighbor is to love God (cf. 1 John 4:20-21)” [p. 260].

All hold an insight. On one hand, I think that loving God means something different than just loving one’s neighbor. One can be a very kind, caring, philanthropic person without giving any thoughts or love to God. On the other hand, I don’t think that a believer can love God without loving neighbor and self, because God loves that neighbor too.

There are three basic Greek words for “love:” agapao/agape, phileo/philos, and eros. There is not always agreement among scholars about the distinction between these three choices. Boring, (Matthew The New Interpreters Bible) says that the words are synonymous — that agape is not necessarily a special word for “God-love”. He writes:

When Christians use the word love with reference to God, to the deepest human relationships, and of the stance they are to exercise toward the world, the content of this word is not to be filled in with supposed meaning of a special Greek word, but from an understanding of God’s nature made known in Christ. It is from this revelatory perspective that we come to know love as unmotivated and unmanipulated, unconditional and unlimited. Such love is not a matter of feeling, which cannot be commanded in any case, but of commitment and action. It is at the farthest pole from sentimentality and is related to the OT word for “covenant love” or “steadfast love” (hesed). [p. 425]

While there is merit to stress the nature and actions of God to give understanding to the word “love,” (i.e., it is God’s actions that give the content to agape, rather than a dictionary meaning of agape that defines God’s actions) and recognizing that the meanings of the three Greek works for “love” overlap — that is, they are partially synonymous, still there are different emphases or nuances in these three words. Given a continuum with “selflessness” on one end and “selfishness” on the other, most place agapao/agape towards the selfless end and eros towards the selfish end with phileo/philos in the middle.

Agapao/agape are words that tend to center on actions (not emotions) towards other people. Eros is a word that tends to center on emotional/sexual actions or feelings that please one’s self. Phileo/philos are words that tend to center on actions and feelings that benefit both parties, e.g., friendships. Especially as a verb, agapao refers to “loving (or caring) actions towards other people for their benefit.” It is not primarily a word to describe one’s emotions, e.g., having warm feelings towards.

For a slightly different definition, Hare, (Matthew, Interpretation Commentaries) writes:

In an age when the word ‘love’ is greatly abused, it is important to remember that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that God has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Deut. 6:5 demands of us but rather stubborn, unwavering commitment. Similarly, to love our neighbor, including our enemies, does not mean that we must feel affection for them. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously. [p. 260]

Loving God then implies an attachment to God — a commitment that goes beyond personal, inward feelings. The same is implied towards the neighbor. Within the OT context of this commandment (Lv 19:17-18), neighbor referred to “kin”. (However, Lv 19:33-34) extends the love to “aliens” who reside among them.


  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007)
  • Eugene Boring, The Gospel of Matthew in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994)
  • Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Book, 2000)
  • R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2007)
  • R.T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 1, ed. Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989)
  • Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991)
  • Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2000)
  • Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2009)
  • Turner and D.L. Bock, Matthew and Mark in the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 11 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005)


  • David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996)
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)

Scripture: The New American Bible available on-line at

Love’s Demand: testing

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Continue reading

Love’s Demands: meaning

What’s love got to do with it?  In commentaries and in Bible studies, I often encounter the variety of words, in the Greek, used for the English word “love.” People ask lots of questions about the meaning and use of them in Scripture. At the same time they are also asking about a “hierarchy” of love – “is there a word that means ‘God love?'” There are perhaps several questions that can also be asked:

  1. How do modern-day Christians use and interpret the various Greek words for “love”: eros, philos, and agape? The answer is often given as a hierarchy of love ascending to God-love in the word
  2. How did the first century Scripture writers understand the differing words? How did they intend to use them?
  3. How does OT and NT scriptures use the words.

Continue reading

Love’s Demands: context

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them (a scholar of the law) tested him by asking, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Continue reading

In Whose Image…

If you are old enough you will remember the 1990s-television ad campaign for Canon cameras featuring the then very young Andre Agassi. He was a brash young tennis pro sporting long hair, a head band, and was ready to take on the world. He was flashy, a media star, a great tennis player. He was hot, happening, the icon of cool. At the end of the commercial he looks into the camera – into your soul and simply says, “Image is everything.” Continue reading


In writing these columns over the last several years, it seems to me that several themes are reoccurring, namely: belonging, gratitude, and commitment. I think we assume people who are faithful then display a sense of belonging, gratefulness, and commitment. But it is actually a bit the other way around. People who find an abiding sense of belonging to a worshipping community and are committed to that community, become people of deeper faith. People who intentionally practice gratitude, become more faithful and committed. Continue reading