There is much in these words that needs to be taken to heart, to be merged into our whole being, to be lived out with our whole strength.
Sh’ma Ysrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad. ʺHear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.ʺ This is the prayer that has been on Jewish lips for over 3,000 years. It is the prayer that begins and ends every day. It is the creed, the belief statement, that underpins the faith, not just in one God, but in all that God is and means to the People of God. Here is the rest of the passage:
ʺTherefore, you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.ʺ
There is much in these words that needs to be taken to heart, to be merged into our whole being, to be lived out with our whole strength. This is the central truth that grounds everything we believe in. There is but one God who made all things seen and unseen, whose Spirit enlivens and supports all that is. We are to love him above all else. Christians recognize this passage in Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s question as to which of the commandments is the greatest. His response echoes the Sh’ma: ʺLove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.ʺ (Matthew 22: 36-40)
It is the Spirit of the One God who gave these insights, these words to the writer/s of Deuteronomy. As Christians, we believe, that Jesus is this same God, incarnate in human flesh, who came among us because of his infinite love for us, who willingly suffered and died for us on the cross, that we might have eternal life. We believe that he is not of the past, that he is not distant, but that, in fact, he remains engaged with us intimately and personally, and is profoundly present to each and every one of us today in his Holy Spirit. He is One and the Same, then, now, and forever. And we wear this truth on our hearts with our whole being and our whole strength. At least that is our deepest desire, even though we know ourselves to be weak.
Every Christian desires to have God before his or her eyes, in his or her mind, and on his or her lips at all times. In faith and hope, we strive, with every fiber of our being, to live our lives out of love for this God who is One and Present at all times, in all places. Yes, we know our sins, but we also know that God’s ineffable love for all of his children is never diminished. We know that his love is the essence of life-giving power, that it is the source of our courage and the healing balm of forgiveness. We know that, because of the Incarnation, the gates of Paradise have been opened to all once again. We know that God’s love has conquered sin, death, and all of our fears, that it calls us to love one another as, he, Jesus, loved us. We know that, in his singular and infinite love for each and every one of us, he challenges and empowers us to incarnate that same love in the world with our own lives, even, if need be, at the cost of suffering and death. We know that because God IS, and because he has written each of our names on the palms of his hands, we can, with his grace, answer his call. We know that, when we falter, he will pick us up, that he will never fail to give us the graces we desire to love him with our whole hearts, our whole beings, our whole strength. God is the ground from which our faith finds its genesis and obtains its nourishment. He is the source of our continuing hope and it is his love that breathes life into us and into all of creation with equal generosity at all times and in all places.
ʺHear, my beloved ones, the Lord, your God, is One.ʺ Lord, let these words be always on our lips. Help us to always repeat them to our children, to recite them at home and when we are away. Let them be on our lips at the end of every day, before we go to sleep, and let them be the first words on our lips when we awaken each morning. Give us the grace always to open our hearts and our minds to this truth. For, the truth is, we are nothing, and have nothing, without your graceful and constant love. We pray this in your name. Amen.
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