Certain moments and words burn themselves into our consciousness: the exchange of marriage vows, the laying-on of the bishop’s hands at ordination, the birth of a child, the death of a parent. These events and words become part of us forever; we don’t forget them – they make us who we are.
In our faith history, there are also moments and words. Today we proclaim one of the most important events and words from the old testament – the words are called the ”Shema”. These words were spoken by Moses to the Israelites as they prepared to cross the Jordan River and enter the promised land. “Hear, o Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!” These words express the Jewish people’s fervent faith in one God and their love of God.
Today, these words are fixed to the doorways of Jewish homes. They are the words that the ultra-orthodox Jews keep, literally, bound to their wrists and foreheads. They are the words spoken every day in Jewish prayer. These are words of love – for God, for a neighbor, and for self.
During the last week of his life after Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, a young rabbinical lawyer approached Jesus with a sincere question. This young man was seeking truth. The rabbis of Jerusalem maintained a never-ending conversation about which of the 613 commandments (written to explain the ten commandments of the law) are the greater commandments, and which are the less weighty. How could these commandments be applied to everyday situations? And with how much latitude could they be applied? What was asked of Jesus was not a trap; it was a sincere question; so Jesus paused and quoted the best known and most repeated prayer in Judaism – the “Shema” – the most sacred ethical precept in Judaism.
Jesus’ answer was: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He told the young man, without actually saying it, that legalistic religious observances mean nothing compared to the love of God and neighbor. Jesus was telling the young man that what truly matters is getting back to the basics.
When all is said and done, to be a good Christian means that we are loyal to God and love God above all things, and because of that loyalty and love of God, we are going to treat our neighbor with great reverence, love, and respect. To love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength is to become what God wants us to be. God calls us to live life to the fullest; to be open to all that He wills us to become. To love God then means that we recognize His complete dominion over us and that we pledge our lives to be faithful to Him.
When we love God completely with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength; we do make a difference. The key is the three-letter word “all”. We hold nothing back for ourselves. When we are committed to God – it means that we look at life in a different way – and we deal with people in a new and different way. To love God and one another is a commitment to goodness. For Jesus, that commitment meant the Cross. What does that commitment mean for us?