At my church, we’ve been studying the book of Deuteronomy. Last week, we heard a sermon from Deuteronomy 6, which contains one of my favorite verses, a passage I was taught to memorize at a very young age: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people to remember this commandment to love God, to teach it to their children, and to constantly talk and think about Him.
Sunday’s sermon made me want to study deeper into this passage. After all, this section is called the Shema, which means Listen, so I sat down to pay more attention to it. This scripture is central to the Jewish faith, so much so that Jesus quoted it in three of the Gospels, including Mark 12: “The most important command is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”
Of course, Jesus doesn’t misquote Deuteronomy (that’s impossible because He is God, the author of the whole book), so why does He add an extra word? Instead of three, Jesus lists four ways to devote ourselves to God: heart, soul, mind, and strength. I always assumed the original list meant for me to love God with my emotions, my spirit, and my physical body. And then Jesus just added my thoughts. While this is true, there’s a richer, more all-encompassing explanation waiting to be discovered.
Due to the complexities of language, it’s easy to misunderstand what strength means in the original text. Though the picture which pops into my mind is of a carnival-type Strong Man hoisting a dumbbell over his head, it’s not an accurate visual for this verse. Some versions translate strength as power, while others use the word might. But the original word means “muchness.” We’re given one word after another that commands us to love God with everything we’ve got. Although this is a giant and challenging task, it becomes more clear-cut because I can offer what I have, and this is a relief to someone who sometimes feels she lacks strength.
To be honest, I don’t feel especially strong unless I’m giving birth or moving furniture by myself. Other than that, I consider my abilities in the “Strength” category to hover around average, so what would He want with my often lame excuse for strength? We’re called to love God with the heart, soul, mind, and strength we’ve been given, but how? Well, fortunately, we have the example right in front of us: God loved us first. As the Book of Romans describes it, “God loved us when we were still sinners.” Dirty, old, always-messing-up sinners. If He could start loving me in spite of my weakness, then I can love him back while situated in the same flawed condition. I can never match His strength anyway, making my offering pretty inadequate, but he still wants my love.
I couldn’t say why Jesus added the word mind in his list after they asked him what the greatest command was, but He was in an earthly body at the time He spoke those words. He knew the limitations of this physical form, so He seemed to want to be clear. Love the Lord with all the “muchness” you’ve got at your disposal, and then love your neighbor. Jesus told them once we do this “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Thank goodness it doesn’t have to begin with my strength…It all starts with love!