Today’s gospel (MK 12: 28-34) is always a reminder to me of the rootedness of Christianity, that our heritage is the same ancestry as that of Jesus, stretching back thousands of years. I am always moved when I think of Jesus growing up reading/chanting the same psalms that I do and there is something perhaps even more visceral about his answer today to the scribe who asked him to name the first of all commandments. I envision Jesus standing up straight, sun as back-lighting, raising his voice to respond: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad. (Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.) I read a commentary recently that said, “The Shema does not have to be recited in Hebrew. It may be recited in any language the worshipper understands but the miracle of the Hebrew letters makes the prayer much more powerful in Hebrew even if you don’t understand the words.” I have found that to be true (as I’m sure some Christians find with some Latin hymns from our youth or others find in Sanskrit chants). I first learned a chant of the Shema some years ago in a Wisdom School session and continue to find in it a feeling of strength and identity that transcends the boundaries of religion. The meaning of the words is imprinted in me in a place deeper than my mind and calls me to an expansiveness that can only come from the heart.
We know the text that Jesus was quoting from the Torah. I will take it with me as companion today, my prayer being for a greater consciousness of unity across the world.
Hear, O Israel! the Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.