Muchness – Joseph Wood

וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽך

“You shall love the Lord your God

with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

(Deuteronomy 6:5)

In this week’s Gospel passage, Jesus is approached by a lawyer and asked, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36) Another snare set by the religious authorities, Christ responds by quoting from two Old Testament verses—Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Each synoptic gospel has a slightly different account of this exchange, but they always include the tripartite Deuteronomic list. Naturally, they disagree on the contents of the trio, especially the last item. In the Gospel of Matthew that we’ll hear on Sunday, the list ends with “καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ σου” (and with all of your mind), while Mark and Luke close with an additional “καὶ ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἰσχύϊ σου” (and with all of your strength) beforehand. The difference between διανοίᾳ and ἰσχύϊ, between mind and strength seems striking. The puzzle only grows when we look at the original passage, which reads “וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽך” (and with all your might). Though might and strength could seem similar, I’m not sure that might is the most authentic translation of the Biblical Hebrew phrase “מְאֹדֶֽך.” Transliterated as m'odekha, it carries a much stronger sense of totality than the English connotations of might may lead you to envision. A tweaked, polished translation might be all that you are, though I think something rougher might be even better in this case: your muchness. The question is: do mind and/or strength capture what it means to love God with all that you are, with all of your muchness?

Or perhaps debating over particular attributes at all means that I have fallen into a trap very similar to the one the lawyer laid before our Lord. How much should we be descending into legalism, quibbling over quite what fully loving God entails? Maybe the authors of Luke and Mark show wisdom by including both terms, strength and mind, in their formulation.* After all, the beauty of muchess is that it invites the question of more again and again. Do I have more of my heart that I could offer to God? More of my soul? More of my mind? More of my strength? Do I love God with all that I am? They can be big, scary questions. I think that’s why Jesus immediately follows it up with a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Shifting from the enormity of what we owe to God, our Savior quietly reminds us that each interaction with those we meet is an opportunity, a chance to live a little more wholly into our particular muchness. (Remember, it’s your might, not some abstract, objective quantity.) We cannot separate our relationship with the Divine from our human ones; thank God. Instead, Christ tells us to go: love your neighbor and live into your muchness.

 

*In each, the full line reads: καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς διανοίας σου καὶ ἐξ ὅλης τῆς ἰσχύος σου (Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30)