'One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “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.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.'
The Shema is a daily Jewish prayer which recites Deuteronomy 6 saying, '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.' By the time of Jesus it was a prayer spoken three times a day that had gone deep into the hearts and minds of those who said it. At first glance it might seem to be more like a statement of faith, like a kind of checklist telling people what you believe. But to the Jewish people it was a way of reorienting their lives once again to God, a prayer of faith and hope, a way of remembering who it is they worship and who it is they are called to follow. This prayer ingrained itself deep into the lives of those who declared it as a way of helping them to live each moment within the will and heart of God.
This prayer begins with 'Hear', and reminds us that our first calling as God's people is to listen. We are to listen to God. 'The Lord is one.' God is not a contradiction with multiple personalities, changing his mind all the time. God has told us to listen to him and the most important command that his gives us; love him. This never changes.
To love is not something that can be forged or faked, earned or brought, forced or manipulated. Love is to desire and crave and freely give of yourself to another. God's desire for us to love him is a desire for us to freely give of ourselves to him as he freely gives himself to us.
Listen to him and he will show you the most excellent way of love.
In answering the question in this way, Jesus once again challenges us about who God is what it most important in life. The Pharisees wanted everyone to say and do all the 'right' things according to the way they saw fit. It enabled them to have power and helped keep the people under control. Yet they had distorted who God was and who God was calling people to become.
The history of Israel needed to remember that God was compassionate, slow to anger nad abounding in love.
God was a rescuer and redeemer, the One who had delievered Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land.
God was concerned and passionate about the outsider, poor and oppressed.
God wanted people to know Him and love Him in faithful lives of worship.
Jesus called people to listen and watch as to who God really was and who they were being called to become. It is a calling to become like Jesus and to love God in way that puts him first and a desire to know him intimately. It is a calling to love others sacrificially, putting their needs ahead of our own and to lay down our lives for them.
'Hear' and then 'Do'. Listen to God and then love him with your whole life, not simply with what you say, but how you live. Love others as a sign of your love for him. Love others like you would love yourself. Love others in a way that puts them first, listens to their needs and sees their pain. When you listen to God you realise that He is sending you into the world that was made through Jesus to go and do his will of love and justice. When you listen to God you realise he is sending you to share His Gospel with your community. When you listen to God you are changed in what you think is most important and are challenged by your own prejudices. Listening to God challenges us to see that abundant living is about serving and giving your life to others.
Love God with all your mind and let your thinking and understanding be shaped by this journey with Jesus.
Love God with all heart and allow God to open your heart to his heart and desires.
Love God will all your soul and seek Him in the depths of your being.
Love God with all your strength and use it to see the peace of God in your community and families.
Love your neighbour as yourself, desiring that they might know God and join in the journey of relationship with him.
As we continue on this journey to the Cross with Jesus we are once again challenged as to what it means to love God and what it means to love one another. I wonder how that might look for each one of us as we continue in this journey?