This is the First Great Commandment. It is the most fundamental principle of the whole Mosaic Law, and the centerpiece of the Book of Deuteronomy. Jesus himself, cited these words, calling them the the first and the greatest of the commandments. These words embrace the whole law of God. For our Jewish ancestors, these verses in Deuteronomy became the foundational prayer of their faith. It is known as the Shema: “Shema yisra’el, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Ichad.” “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This prayer is recited every morning and evening by devout Jews today.
This recognition of One God instituted an historically profound shift in the spiritual understanding of humanity. This truth is a matter of God’s revelation to his people. God revealed himself to the Jews as One, undivided and faithful. In doing so, he also revealed his undivided love for the people. He manifested this undivided love and faithfulness to them over and over again, despite their lapses in faithfulness on many occasions. He ultimately manifested this undivided love and faithfulness to us in Jesus.
This commandment remains the first and the greatest commandment for we Christians today. In faith and thanksgiving we are to live our lives loving God first, before all else, and with all our hearts, all our souls, and with all our might. With the revelation of this truth in us individually, comes the need for the practice of it, in order to develop the habit of loving God first with all that we are.
What are those practices? For our hearts, we need to reflect on God’s clear love for us regularly. How often do we arise in the morning thinking first of God, thanking him for the gift of a new day, inviting him into all that we will do this new day? How else can we develop a love for God without forming a personal relationship with him? For our souls, we need to practice the art of prayer. A number of years ago, I developed the habit of saying morning and evening prayer, using a book of prayer that I get once a month. Both morning and evening prayer begin with a short appeal to God, something like this one in the morning prayer: “O Lord, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.” This verse comes from Psalm 51, verse 15. It is followed by the reading of a psalm, a reading from the scriptures, a period of reflection on the scripture, the recitation of the Canticle of Zechariah from Luke 1:68-79, some prayers of petition, then ends with the Lord’s Prayer. The evening prayer follows the same format, but usually uses the Canticle of Mary from Luke 1:46-55. This habit has made all the difference in my daily life. It begins and ends my day with God, but it has also made God’s presence more evident to me throughout the day. On the difficult days, I often struggle with all my might to keep God before me and all the things that are bearing down on me, even my momentary, yet powerful feelings of doubt and despair. And, it never fails, somehow he lets me know that he is there with me. He breaks through the darkness in various ways with grace and rays of hope. Then I know God is One, immediately present, and always faithful.
Lord, help us to respond to your undivided love and faithfulness with an undivided love and faithfulness of our own. In loving you with our whole hearts, our whole souls, and our whole might, we will be able to love one another in the way that you love us. This is the goal of our faith both in this life and the next. We pray, as always, in the power of Jesus’ name. Amen!
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