Jesus’ answer to the question posed by the Pharisee looks unoriginal. He just joins two quotations from the Bible, the love of God (from Deuteronomy) and the love of neighbor as oneself (from Leviticus). But it is precisely this conjunction that is explosive, like harmless chemicals that go bang when mixed in an experiment. It is like the two spheres of the brain, fascinatingly analyzed by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Human civilization depends on the harmonious interplay of the left and right hemispheres of the brain, joined by a tiny cord containing millions of nerve fibers.
We must love God with all our faculties of mind and heart, for they are created by a love that is transcendent and eternal. Infinite Love made every aspect of our being, and only in seeking that mystery of unimaginable love do we flourish and find our goal. Otherwise our love would be mere transient emotion. Without love’s transcendence, love is reduced to passing feelings of no ultimate significance. But the infinity of our love would lead to religious fanaticism and ideology if it did not come down to earth in our neighbor. The Pharisees in Matthew’s account gather together against Jesus using their intelligence to trap him rather than love him. Their hearts are blunted by hatred instead of an openness to him. His body becomes an object to be destroyed.
Without being turned to our neighbors, religious love can burn up the world. And the tiny thread joining the two hemispheres is the Incarnation of the one who is human and divine.