Shema: A Divine Love

10-31-2021Weekly ReflectionFr. Bing Colasito

When one of the scribes asks which is the first of all the commandments? Jesus answers by bringing back the teaching of Moses to the people of Israel, the Shema: “Hear, O Israel! the Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” But Jesus also adds the love of neighbor and yourself as an extension to it. The scribe gets it; he knows that these two double commandments of love are the greatest; and far superior to any exterior worship, “worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Going back to the Jews of exodus, they promise Yahweh to faithfully follow His commandments; “then they will have a long life,” which for a Jew is the highest good since the afterlife is still unclear.

The Shema constantly reminds them of the promise they made. There are two famous translations of the first part of the Shema. The first translation (Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.); means that Yahweh is God alone, a sharp contrast to Baal, the many Canaanite deities. The second translation (Yahweh, our God, is one Yahweh) confesses the oneness of Yahweh as opposed to the many divergent traditions and sanctuaries of Yahweh. Yahweh is one God but worshiped in many other sanctuaries during that time. The Shema is also the creed of monotheism so important to every Jew that they recite it twice daily (morning and evening).

To constantly remind them, they write the Shema on a piece of paper or strips of parchment, enclosed in a leather container wrapped around the left arms or forehead (called phylacteries) of every male Jew. They also inscribe the Shema on the doorpost of their houses and their gates (Dt. 6:69).

God chooses to reveal Himself to His people; through Moses and the prophets, giving them the commandment to establish unity, order, and peace. He is a father who wants His children to grow and become healthy in mind, body, heart, and spirit. In the same way, parents must offer unconditional love to their children in the pattern of the love of God for His people. The key to a healthy relationship between parents and children is love. Without this love, a divine relationship is impossible. But with God’s love, it is possible to extend divine love to all God’s children.

The second reading explains how divine love is made available through the ministry of Jesus Christ, the High Priest. While the ministry of the Levitical priesthood came to an end when they died, the priesthood of Jesus Christ does not come to an end, for He lives forever. His priesthood does not pass away. The resurrection of Jesus shows He conquers death and lives forever. And through His sacrifice, the ultimate and perfect sacrifice of love, we are empowered to fulfill the commandments of love as well. There is no limit to His love, and He asks us to have no limit to our love, as well.

Loving involves sacrifice and sometimes suffering. When we decide to love, we choose the good of the other, putting us therefore in the third-place only, after God and neighbor. One can say that it is like the experience of dying in a sense, we are dying to the cravings and invitations of the flesh. But when we love in the way God wants us to love, we experience the rising or resurrection. Because the commandment to love unites us to God in His dying and rising; and calls us to love with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength God, neighbor, and self, and in that order.

Love even when it is difficult to love, love by choosing the good of the other, and love God without limit.