The SHEMA - With All Your Heart

11-04-2018Weekly ReflectionFr. Julius Kundi

In the first reading from Deuteronomy, the opening word, “Shema”, means “listen”; it also has the sense of “obey”. It's a Jewish prayer, the SHEMA. This prayer is a daily reminder not only of the covenant obligations but also of the privilege from which those obligations flow. As people of God, it's a call each day to listen and obey.

The Pontifical Biblical Commission in its 1993 document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, picked up this motif, describing the local Christian community as one “which knows that it is addressed by God (cf. John 6:45), a community that listens eagerly to the Word with faith, love and docility".

Biblical scholars go further to suggest this is the wider context of the supreme commandment to love the Lord alone “with all your heart, and with all your soul and all your might”. According to these scholars, "Love” has the sense of cleaving to God, to the exclusion of all other objects of worship. And "Heart”, “soul” and “strength” refer not so much to separate capacities but together communicate a loving commitment that engages the totality of a person, including—especially from “strength” – one’s talents and capacity for action, perhaps even one’s possessions.

Jesus in today's gospel repeats these seem ideals that were already clear in the Old Testament. The command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind,” was imprinted on the heart of every Jew, as their central daily prayer, the Shema. However, Jesus goes further and links this love of God with love of neighbor, to jointly form the greatest commandment. According to St Augustine we should “Love God first, and then do what you will,” meaning that if we love God properly, we cannot but want others to share in that love. The fourth evangelist, John, also saw everything in Christ’s life on earth in terms of love, and kept preaching this into his old age. He even declares that “Anyone who says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar, for how can one who does not love the brother that he can see, love God whom he has never seen?” (1 Jn 4:20).

Indeed, loving with all of one’s heart is a truly radical challenge, in imitation of Christ. But it is our Christian vocation. For our faith makes us believe that life comes from death, that gain comes from loss, that receiving comes from giving, and that Jesus himself had to die to come to the fullness of life. We profess to be followers of one who made a complete offering of himself to the Father and spent his energies and his time in the service of others, who returned to his Father devoid of any earthly goods.

This does not imply that we have to tread exactly the same path as Christ. What it does indicate is that genuine surrender to God does not allow us to retreat into a paradise of unreal spirituality. It means that if we love God, we need to be concerned for others, for the members of our family and community. We need to rise above our selfishness and realize that “there is greater happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35).

The invitation to love God and to love our neighbor becomes very concrete in the love of neighbor. It is not just any neighbor that we must love, but the neighbor who is right in front of us. The neighbor is not the person who lives next door but any human being who happens to cross into our life. This neighbor is especially the person that we don’t want to help, the person who may have injured us, the person who seems unworthy of our help, the person who will take more of our time than we want to give.

Always in the Gospel we find this teaching of the Lord Jesus: love those who don’t love you; love those who are your enemies; love those who slap you and injure you. Therefore, as a believer in Jesus the High Priest, you must be confident that underpinning your relationship with God is the permanent and supremely efficacious intercession of him Christ as High Priest, who calls us: Love God and love your neighbor. Listen to Him!

Fr. Julius