“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:29-30
“What is thy duty towards God?” asks the catechism and the answer is, “My duty towards God is to believe in him, to fear him, And to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength: To worship him, to give him thanks: To put my whole trust in him, to call upon him: To honour his holy Name and his Word: And to serve him truly all the days of my life”.
Were this a school class, I think I would probably ask how many verbs there are in the answer. At a quick count, there are at least nine. At primary school we were always told that verbs were “doing” words; our duty towards God is about our active response to him.
The answer begins with recognition that belief in God is something of both the mind and the heart. “My duty towards God is to believe in him, to fear him.”
In the Bible, believing is something more than just saying “yes” in our minds. There is the story of the boy who has suffered seizures and Jesus says to the boy’s father, in Saint Mark Chapter 9 Verse 23, “All things can be done for the one who believes”. The boy’s father knows that belief about which Jesus is talking is more than just saying “yes”. Verse 24 tells us, “Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!'”He realizes that he needs to be able to believe in his heart as well as in his mind.
Believing in God in our hearts is about fearing him, not fearing in a negative sense of being frightened, but fearing him because we are overwhelmed by our encounter with him, a holy fear. Think of the meetings on Mount Sinai of Moses with the Lord God in the book of Exodus; think of Elijah’s experience of the Lord passing by in the First Book of Kings Chapter 19; think of the account in Saint Mark Chapter 9 of Peter and James and John being with Jesus on the mountainside when he was transfigured and Saint Mark says they were “terrified”. Does our belief in God include a sense of fear in the face of his holiness? We are challenged to believe in mind and heart.
It is my duty towards God, says the catechism, “to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength”. The words are from the Shema, a daily prayer of the Jewish people, said each morning and evening. They are from the Torah, from the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6 Verses 4-5 say, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”. When Jesus is asked by a scribe, in Saint Mark Chapter 12 Verses 28-30, as to which commandment is first of all he quotes the Shema and then continues, in Verse 31, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these”. The catechism question and answer are directly from verses of the Gospels.
Our duty towards God includes our worship of him. Worship is about worth-ship, about worthiness, about giving something its worth; worship is about giving God his worth all of the time. Proverbs Chapter 3 Verse 6 sets it out in plain terms, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Worship is not just about church services, it is about meeting with God and giving him the worthship he is due, each day of the week. We may find that attending services in church are occasions where we meet with God, but that does not mean God is not met elsewhere. A farmer I knew in the North once told me that she felt that if she did not meet with God on her farm during the week, she did not think she would meet with him when she came to church on a Sunday—that if her daily life was not part of her worship, then the Sunday service would not have meaning for her. It is challenging to think that every day should be part of our worship.
“To give him thanks” is part of our duty towards God; a duty that is often completely forgotten. We readily pray when something has gone wrong, when we are upset, when we feel there is no-one else to whom we can turn, but when all is well, when we are happy and healthy, when we are coping ourselves, we can quickly forget God. Saint Luke Chapter 17 Verses 11-19 tells the story of ten leprosy sufferers who meet with Jesus. Leprosy was the worst of illnesses, it destroyed physical health and brought isolation from loved ones; being healed of leprosy was a healing of body and mind. The ten are healed but only one comes back to say “thank you”. Verse 16-17 say, “He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked,’Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?'” How often are we like the other nine in that story?
The catechism says I should “put my whole trust in him, to call upon him.” In our own lives, how often are we really asked to put our whole trust in Jesus? How often do we call upon him as our first response to the things we encounter? Saint Matthew Chapter 14 Verses 25-33 tell of Peter being challenged to put his full trust in Jesus. The disciples are in a boat and, early in the morning, Jesus comes to them, walking on the water. They are afraid and Peter says, in Verse 28, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”. Peter puts his full trust in Jesus, but then fear overcomes that trust. “Lord, save me”, he cries out in Verse 30, as he begins to sink in the water; Peter calls upon Jesus only at the point where his trust fails. If we had been in Peter’s place, how much trust would we have had? When would we have called out to Jesus? How quickly would we have begun to sink? Would we have dared even to have stepped out of the boat? When the catechism reminds us that we should put our “whole trust in him, to call upon him”, what does that mean to us? What practical ways do we put our trust in God? How ready are we to call upon him?
My duty towards God, as set out in the catechism, concludes that I am “To honour his holy Name and his Word: And to serve him truly all the days of my life.” Honour and service go together, each should lead to the other; our desire to honour God should lead us to serve him and our service to him should bring him honour. Jesus is critical of those whose honour to God’s name and his holy Word is only a matter of religious observance. In Saint Matthew Chapter 15 Verse 7, he condemns the religious leaders, “You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me'”. Honour must be more than a matter of words, it must be in the heart; it must be expressed in daily lives of service to God. When Greeks come seeking Jesus in Saint John Chapter 12, Jesus says to his friends, in Verse 26, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour”. The Father will honour those who serve Jesus; honouring Jesus means serving him.
Our duty towards God is filled with “doing” words; faith is something active, faith is a personal response.