Shema


Shema \shə-ˈmä\

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

When you read these words, you might say to yourself that you have heard these words before.  More than likely, they have been preached, taught or otherwise subconsciously inserted into your mind if you have spent any length of time at a Bible based church or fellowship.  To the Jews, this was the main prayer.  This was their call to arms, their cry of submission, their commitment of obedience.

In fact, the Jews who followed the practice of praying 3 to 5 times per day would recite the Shema at the beginning and at the end of each prayer session.  Furthermore, it became culturally accepted to even greet people in the morning with “Shema Yisrael” or “Hear, O Israel”. They would even kiss their children goodnight and as they left they would tell them “Shema Yisrael”.

So, the question then for me is, what next? After saying this phrase over and over, what next?  I think that many of the Jews could have gotten complacent about the text’s meaning…even having apathy for it.  Although they would continue to say it, they may not always let it pervade their life, like the text suggests.  In fact, some of the priests and many of the pharisees of Jesus’ time used the Shema as a way to precede any comment they wanted to sound holy, even if it was not.  And as we also know by reading the gospels, many of them were “do as I say, not as I do”.

Jesus brought a completion to the Shema, however. You see, the Shema was a call to worship God, but really did not assert anything about how to interact with each other.  In effect, the Shema addressed the first 4 commandments, but at best ignores the last 6.  Now, don’t hear me wrong and think I am saying that the Shema was not right to be used like it was…it clearly was called to be used like it was.  And a devout Jew would have a firm grasp on the Torah (our Old Testament) especially the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of our Old Testament). They would be trying and striving to live out the 613 laws of the Torah every single day.  And they clearly would know the last 6 commandments handed to Moses by God.  However, the Shema was used so often and placed in so many public spaces, the focus would be on God and worshiping him.  And that is what we are called to do.  But when we don’t emphasize the last 6 commandments, or at least do not also make them “be as frontlets between your eyes”, then we allow the chaos of our world around us dictate how we interact with one another.  

This chaos, caused by sin and perpetrated by Satan and his horde, seeks to battle and take ground against God’s peace, or shalom.  Shalom is the thought that all is as it should be, as God intended at creation, peace on earth. So, when the Pharisees sought to trap Jesus in Matthew 22, they got reminded that the Shema was for man to worship God, and that the rest of the laws were for man to love one another. 

“35 And one of them (the pharisees), a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (The Shema!) 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

You see, Jesus did not stop at the Shema, he reminded the pharisees that there is more to God than just you and Him.  You have a world around you, a world in chaos.  And when you live out the love of Jesus to that world you are helping push back the chaos and usher in the shalom. Even Paul wrote likewise to the Galatians in Chapter 5

14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,[d] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do[e] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

Most of the items he listed, like I said before, were issues between man and man, with a heart of rebellion against God. While there are clearly items concerning God and man, the Shema for those early Jewish believers would not be forgotten, and so they would be in agreement.  And by Paul adding those items in there between God and man, they were to reinforce those points for the gentile believers and to counteract actual issues in the church as it ministered in Galatia. Here in these passages, Jesus and Paul both are reminding us that it is in our relationships with each other, and the extent of shalom we bring into the chaos around us, that shows the love of God as a result of our salvation in Christ Jesus. In fact, this is one of the last things Jesus imparted onto the apostles in John 13.

“34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So, in sharing this info, I would like for us to challenge each other to study the words of the Bible, old and new testaments, like the Shema.  Write it on our walls and share it with our children, and memorize it and use it in all situations.  But I also challenge us to follow Christ’s command to love our neighbors. And by this people will know that we are disciples of Jesus, and that they too may glorify His name and receive their salvation. Your interactions with God will not be honored if you do not properly handle your neighbor…Mark 5 states: “23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Psalm 66:16-20

Come and listen, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth,
his praise was on my tongue.
18 Had I cherished (harbored) evil thoughts,
Adonai would not have listened.
19 But in fact, God did listen;
he paid attention to my prayer.
20 Blessed be God, who did not reject my prayer
or turn his grace away from me.

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