“This Is My Son; Shema!”

shema

“Shema Yisrael” “Hear O Israel”
~ Deut. 6:4, and the first two words of the greatest commandment, according to Jesus.

These two words are precious to every Jew, everywhere, and should be just as precious to every Christian. Morning and evening, observant Jews recite a prayer/creed/vow called the Shema. Composed of three scripture portions from Deut. and Lev., the Shema is a daily reminder of God and His teaching, and a prayer of commitment to live in obedience to God’s righteous covenant.

We Christians should remember that when Jesus was asked “What is the greatest commandment”, he answered with this first verse of the Shema. But there is a difference between what a Jew and a Christian understands when they hear “Hear, O Israel”, due to our limited knowledge of Hebrew. (That is, if the Christian even hears the first two words; after all, we tend to edit out things we feel don’t apply to us.)

The English language is a cornucopia, with 400,000-600,00 words. When you look up Hear in a thesaurus, you will discover a multitude of synonyms, most of which deal with aural input into the ear. However, the vocabulary of biblical Hebrew is limited; there are only 8,500 Hebrew words that make up the nearly 500,000 words of the TNK**. Therefore, Hebrew words often have much richer meaning with more implications carried in a word than would be implied in an English word.

Shema is one of these words, and has a wider, deeper meaning when used in the TNK.

Follow Instructions

Years ago, I was in a class were the teacher handed out a page of instructions for the class to follow, as a test. I remember that the first step was “Read the entire set of instructions.” I think the second one was to put your name at the top of the page, and there were different instructions, like numbering your page from 1 to 15, drawing 3 stars on line 9, and several other instructions along that line. The thing was that the last instruction said, “Put your pencil down after doing step 2.”

Most of the students read the first instruction, and then continued on, performing the tasks of each numbered direction as they read further down the list. There were two or three students in the class who put their pencils down and sat in their seats, waiting, while the teacher smiled, and hinted, “Be sure you read the directions closely.” Being one of the eager ones, I kept looking at the kids who were just sitting there, wondering why they weren’t doing the work. It was only when I got to the last line that I understood.

They had read the instructions and done what they were supposed to do: read all the instructions, put their names on the paper, and wait. They “listened” and they “obeyed.”

“To Hear Is To Obey”

And that is the fuller meaning of the Hebrew word Shema. Remember that old “to hear is to obey” line from the movies? Yeah, that’s what God, through Moses, is telling the Israelites in Deut. 6.  But the thing is that this same command is given to us today, by our Hebrew Lord. Asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”, He cites the Shema. He wasn’t asked, “What’s the greatest commandment up until now?”, or “What’s the greatest commandment for Jews alone?”. 

No, the greatest commandment for all people begins with Shema, “Hear my words and do them!”, the message of the entire Scriptures.

We Christians think that we know better, that we are under a different covenant by which we don’t have to worry about being obedient all the time; after all, “Pobody’s nerfect,” we tell each other (don’t want to come across as too judgy or self-righteous.) We are under grace now and freed from observances of the Law. We are freed to live in Christian liberty, with freedom to fall down and get back up.

But what is it that God told the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration? “This is my beloved son, hear him.” (Lk. 9:35) (Just a reminder–while Luke wrote his gospel in Greek, God was talking to Hebrew-speaking disciples.) God told Peter, James and John to shema to Jesus. And that word carried the connotation of not just listening, but obeying Him.

“Obey Him? CSL, aren’t you pulling more out of the passage than is actually there? After all, Jesus instituted Christianity, which is based on believing Jesus, not obeying some laws, right?”

No, I’m not going beyond the text, and no, Jesus didn’t institute a new religion. He was a teacher of the religion, the Covenant that He grew up in. In fact, Jesus said that He didn’t come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it, (establish it, in better translations.) When He told the teachers that not the least yodh or kotz (jot and tittle) would pass from the Law before Heaven or earth be destroyed, He was upholding the permanence of God’s law (Mt. 5:18).

So, Hear Him? How?

By being a true disciple, a follower of Jesus in deed, not just word. Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to demonstrate how religious people can be so…, well, religious, but not be disciples:

… this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
(Isa. 29:13)

I’ve written a series of posts asking why Jesus was a rabbi. The answer is simple: Jesus, as a Jew, as a rabbi, was the complete embodiment of God’s revelation for mankind. At the end of the second chapter of her Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg writes:

The mission of a rabbi was to become a living example of what it means to apply God’s Word to one’s life. A disciple apprenticed himself to a rabbi because the rabbi had saturated his life with Scripture and had become a true follower of God. The disciple sought to study the text, not only of Scripture but of the rabbi’s life, for it was there that he would learn how to live out the Torah. Even more than acquiring his master’s knowledge, he wanted to acquire his master’s character, his internal grasp of God’s law…. That’s what the rabbi-disciple relationship was all about. From ancient times, God had told his people: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

It’s one thing to want to live a Christian life because you have been convinced of the correctness the precepts and principles of Christianity.  It’s a completely different and separate thing to realize that you are morally lacking and need to acquire the character of Jesus. All too often we reduce Christianity to the acceptance of a set of intellectual propositions when, instead, it is the transformation of a life.

So the answer to the question of what it means to hear Jesus is to seek His character in our daily lives. Just as He lived a life of godly holiness, we shema to Jesus by seeking to follow His life in our lives.

CSL

** Tanakh is the Jewish/Hebrew term for the portion of the Bible that Christians call the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi. I am going to try to use Tanakh in my articles from now on, because I believe that the term “Old Testament” is a barrier to communication and understanding between Christians and Jews.

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“Inherit The Land”?

yamulka1

Please indulge me as I engage in a mini-rant, as I am really, REALLY, cheesed off! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am reading scads of material on the Jewish context of Christianity, and I just read something that has me…, well, angry, I guess.

I do get that there is a silent anti-Semitism inherent in today’s Christianity that is so ingrained as to be unnoticed because it is so pervasive that it has become part of our faith, unintended though it may be. What we don’t understand is that we have precious little light and, because of this, we have even less reason to make inquiry into how much we know just ain’t so! Continue reading

“Salvation Is Of The Jews”

davids-tomb

In my Why A Rabbi? post, I traced how God’s revelation of himself and His way came through Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Mankind’s history has been the story of gods and idols that need to be appeased, cajoled, or bribed in order to get favorable results in one’s life. In essence, magic, myth, and mysticism have been the spiritual legacy of humanity from, … oh, say, the time of Noah?

Judaism’s difference, and because it is from the same root, Christianity’s difference, is that there is one God who is supreme and who has been revealing Himself to mankind in order to draw fallen people back into fellowship and holy, right living. The Shema begins with “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4). And unlike the gods of the universe, this God, this LORD who is one, is not only powerful, He cares for his creation. Continue reading

Sow Where You’re Planted

SSower1

This past Sunday, our pastor spoke on the Parable of the Sower, and told us the story of the illustration, above. She and a friend, about 13 years ago, created the banner to go along with this parable when she was serving as a district superintendent for the Virginia Conference of the UMC. They purposely left the face unfinished, using it as the hook for the congregations she was visiting, telling them that they should picture the sower with their face, as it is every Christian’s responsibility to sow the Word of God in their situations.

As she was speaking about the parable, and as I was looking this banner, the old adage about growing where you are planted popped into my head. Only, it didn’t come to me as “Grow where you are planted,” but “Sow where you are planted.” Continue reading

Why A Rabbi?: The Silent Years?

silent

One of the popular topics of speculation in religious circles, both Christian and non-, is “what happened during Jesus’ Silent Years?” Of course, the silent years being the time in Christ’s life between His twelfth birthday and His baptism by John in the Jordan, when He went off into the desert for forty days.

But here’s the deal about those supposed silent years—while the Gospels don’t give us specifics concerning any particular event in the life of Christ prior to ministry, (other than His youthful visit to the Temple), we have enough historical writings to know what His life was like as He grew, and how He was preparing for His public ministry. Continue reading

“Why A Rabbi?”: A Slight Detour

rabbidetourAs I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am examining the Jewish nature of Jesus’ ministry, and what it should mean to those who fashion themselves to be His disciples. I’m going to begin this post by asking a question, and then following it up into a rabbit trail that actually is quite relevant to this series of posts. Here is the question:

Who has NOT heard the statement “Jesus was born to die”?

No one, right? This is a commonly-used statement that people make to say that the purpose of Christ’s birth was to get Him to Calvary, to die as God’s sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the world. Continue reading

“Why A Rabbi?”, part 1

rabbi1I realize that several of my recent posts may lead some to think that I’ve become ga-ga over Judaism, that I might be a couple bubbles off-center in my fascination with the historic background for the birth of the Church due to this one book that’s gotten me all hipped on Jesus the Jew. But I have to say that seeing Jesus in a synagogue and not the cathedral has both answered a lot of questions for me and engendered a whole lot more.

But one basic question that I have been coming back to, over and over, is a simple, three-word question in the second chapter of  Sitting At The Feet Of Rabbi Jesus:

“Why a rabbi?” Continue reading