Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Prope 25A October 23, 2011

     Shema. Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonia ehad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

     Every pious Jew recites this verse morning and evening. Rabbinical tradition says the Shema in the morning as soon as there is enough light to distinguish colors and before 3 hours after sunrise, and in the evening after sunset or as soon as three stars can be seen. The Shema is the core of the synagogue service where it continues from Deuteronomy 6:5-9, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

When the lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” he was looking for some unusual response to show that Jesus was a kook. But Jesus responded with the answer he had been reciting morning and evening all his life. 

The Shema is so central to Jewish identity that because during the Nazi holocaust many Christian individuals and institutions took in Jewish children to save them but couldn’t raise them as Jews. After the war an American rabbi went to Europe to look for these children. He would go to a group, sing the Shema, and look for a response from those whose earliest memories were of their mother singing at bedtime and in the morning.

A Jewish revolt resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and in another revolt in 132 AD the great Jewish scholar Rabbi Akiva was tortured to death. One early evening they took a large iron comb and began to scrape off his flesh. As the sun set he began to sing the Shema. As his students looked on in horror, Rabbi Akiva told them, “All my life I never was able to fulfill the commandment to 'love God with all your soul’ until now." He extended the last word until he died. (Brochot 61a)”

To this central affirmation of faith Jesus adds from Leviticus 19:18 “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Rabbi Hillel was the spiritual leader of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus’ birth. Jewish college student associations bear his name today. Hillel was famous for pithy teachings, one of which quotes this verse. The lawyer came looking for some strange teaching he could use to condemn Jesus, and Jesus responds from the core of the biblical and rabbinic tradition. “Love God; love your neighbor.” Five words, the essentials of spiritual and moral life.  “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

            Just before 400 AD in north Africa Augustine wrote, God, “you have made us 
for yourself and our heart is restless until it comes to rest in you.” In the early 17th century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote , (Pensees 10:148), “Man’s . . . infinite abyss can be filled only . . . by God himself.”  We all seek an experiential experience of the living God, and we find God, and God finds us, as we love God and love our neighbors.

          It is simple, but not easy. The search for God is difficult. God’s search for us cost Jesus his life, in a painful death on the cross. Our search for God, and God’s search for us, requires truth and effort. As the early 20th century English writer Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”  Chesterton also wrote, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
            The lawyer knew intellectually the truth of Jesus’ responses, but intellectual 
knowledge had not become action. We know this from the lawyer’s motives. He did not ask. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” because he wanted to know, but because he wanted to test Jesus, to try to discredit him. He was a hypocrite. So are we. We can talk the talk, but we find it difficult to want to walk the walk. When we confess our sins we confess our hypocrisy.

            And we are forgiven. We are forgiven sinners, forgiven the sins of the past so 
we may try again, guided by the Holy Spirit of truth and power to love God and neighbor. Thanks be to God!

            Jesus has been answering questions all week. Now he turns to the Pharisees, the 
religious leaders, and confounds them with a question about the Messiah, quoting from Psalm 110. Everyone, Pharisees and common people alike, looked forward to the coming of a Messiah, an anointed one, who would begin in Israel a time of political freedom and economic justice. They expected a “son of David” a successor to Israel’s great king in the past, David who had written the Psalms. Jesus tells the Pharisees that their understanding of the Messiah is too small. God is doing a new thing. The Messiah is not only Israel’s Messiah but the Anointed One for all people everywhere and in all times. He is the Son of David, yes, and also the son of the Most High, the Son of God whom they proclaimed morning and night.

          “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” The leaders of his people had shown the truth and the spiritual power of Jesus, and they had decided that he was a sufficient threat to their rule that they had to remove him by death. They began a plot to accuse him falsely of fomenting rebellion, to accuse him to the Roman government and to execute him. And they did, and God raised him on the third day, and of that we are witnesses.

    Shema, Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonia ehad. 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 mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

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