Living the Great Commandments

As part of our morning prayer as a community of Friars, we read the names aloud for the friars who passed away on the given day. This weekend marks the 6th anniversary of the passing of one of the true characters and legends of our Franciscan province. Brother Juniper Capece was a friar for 60 years, was our provincial tailor, and was the keeper of many of the stories of the friars – you know, the ones that never get written down, but bring everyone to tears because we are laughing so hard. 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

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.


Sources

  • 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)

Dictionaries

  • 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 http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm

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

Aligning love of neighbor

greatest-commandment2“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:36-40) Continue reading

Seeing the Law

greatest-commandment2You can often read or hear that the Pharisees and their predecessors surrounded the 10 Commandments with 613 other laws – laws which strike us as odd when we encounter stories of Jesus healing on the Sabbath and the authorities respond quite negatively, challenging Jesus to keep holy the Sabbath.  In our modern and Christian sensibilities, we cheer Jesus on as he “battles” for the Law of Love expressed in today’s Gospel. Continue reading

The Greatest Commandment

greatest-commandment2Matthew 22: 34-40  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