Love God – love others – nothing else matters

This was the subtitle of a day by Revd Steve Chalke MBE entitled “Intimacy and Involvement” at Gloucester Cathedral yesterday. It was organised by the Spirituality Network for Gloucestershire. I was attracted to attend the day because of the reference in his title to Jesus' summary of the (Jewish) law – love God and love your neighbour as yourself – which seems to me to be about as good as it gets in any summary of how to live your life intelligently.

I'm not quite sure what I expected from the day, but usually days organised by Spirituality networks are “Quiet Days” and have a few short talks with lots of space for reflection. However this day involved a lot of listening to Steve (and he is an entertaining speaker) with a bit of group work so we could think about what we might do differently in Gloucester. (Someone pointed out that they were not from Gloucester but Gloucestershire, and I am from neither!) Steve's main point was that during the 20th century, partly because of the state takeover of social security and health care, the church became kind of ghetto of piety instead of being actively engaged in society. So maybe it was appropriate for him to attempt a more action-oriented day. Steve's own response to his own beliefs has been to set up various charities to help build community through schools, hostels, and medical care (Oasis Trust), encourage social action among churches (Faithworks) and now to fight against people trafficking (Stop the traffik).

He made many references to the Torah to make the point that the whole of life should be worship and the family at the centre of it, and not just some time in a church building on a Sunday. He movingly recounted how a Jewish friend, when asked where the worship happened in the sabbath meal, talked of how everything was worship from the hugs to the eating to the conversation. Yes, life should be worship, and there's not much to a religious faith that does not issue in action. However I felt that although his comments were informative and persuasive, his failiure to value the pietistic side of church life gave his comments a lack of balance. Maybe that was the stance he needed to take to encourage us to become more active!

I continue to be attracted by the balanced way in which the Cursillo movement encourages Christians to view their life by looking at piety, study, and action.

I learned some interesting things to do with Jesus' summary of the law, which gives new significanct to Jesus' comments about his yoke being light (Matthew 11:29), the way he invited disciples by saying “follow me” (Matthew 4:19 et al), and references to his authority (Matthew 7:29 et al).

According to Steve, Jewish rabbis (teachers) would be approached by men who wanted to be disciples. If they showed that they knew the scriptures, then they would be accepted by the rabbi with the words “follow me.” The disciple knew the scriptures, so what he was to learn was the rabbi's particular interpretation. This was called their yoke. The way in which the teaching of the rabbi was passed on through the generations was through his disciples who were trained for three years and then became rabbis themselves. Some rabbi's passed on the yoke that they had received. Others developed their own interpretation and were said to speak with authority – so this phrase in the Bible is a technical term. When Jesus summarised the law he said (Matthew 22:37-40)

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments

The two parts of this were well known quotes from the scriptures, he says, however it was a new innovation by Jesus to pair them in this way.

 

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