My Shema

“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 strength.” - Deuteronomy 6:4-5

The Shema – meaning: to hear and to act upon

Sometime after the Israelites returned from captivity, the Shema became a central part of daily Jewish life. During the second temple period, these verses were recited every morning and evening fulfilling the words, and you shall talk about them when you lie down and when you get up. (Deut. 6:7)

In the Mishnah, the oral teachings of the sages, the rabbi’s referred to the recitation of the Shema as “receiving the Kingdom of heaven.” The Shema was a daily way of acknowledging God’s personal rule in your life, a way of making a personal reconfirmation of the covenant with God.

The rabbis made it clear that one could not carry out the teachings of God as an obedient follower without first accepting that God’s Kingdom was above all others. Recitation of the Shema brought the Kingdom of God to earth. The ancient sages, including Jesus himself, agreed that turning one’s heart to God everyday was a prerequisite for obedience.

During Jesus’ day, it seems that the observant Jewish community spoke the ancient words of the Shema with passion and devotion. It is in this context, that Jesus responds to the question of what is the greatest commandment with these words from Deuteronomy.

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important? The most important one, answered Jesus, is this: “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.”

Jesus speaks about obedience to God as an issue of personal devotion of the heart and soul to God. As followers of Jesus, it is important that our hearts are in tune with the Shema. To memorize the Shema, to have these words upon our hearts, is to be a part of an ancient tradition of placing God’s Kingdom first every day. The Shema helps to orient our being to God’s rule; our thoughts, our will and our actions.

Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and likely most of the early church all spoke these words every morning and evening. By God’s design, his sacred text lives upon the lips of His people. The text becomes a living text. Memorizing the Shema and beginning your day with these ancient words is to be a part of a long history of daily devotion. The Shema reminds us of whose Kingdom we are really in and opens the door to fulfilling what Jesus calls the greatest commandment.

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