Shema on you!
Okay, before you get too excited or might be wondering, “What did we do this time?” please note the italics and spelling of the first word. I could not do better than to wish the Jewish Shema upon you, for it is simply Moses’ edict to the Chosen People:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
It is this law, known as the holy Shema, that Jesus gives as his response to the scribe when he quizzed Jesus: “Which is the first of all of the commandments.” It was the correct and expected answer. What was not expected was the addition of “The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Those in attendance at the Catholicism series this past Sunday may remember a discussion and exploration of what St. Thomas Aquinas meant, when he defined love as “to will the good of the other as other.” That is to say, that any of Jesus’ beatitudes, such as “Blessed are the merciful,” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Blessed are those who work for justice,” are the same as loving one’s neighbor—of “willing the good of the other as other.” But think more about Jesus’ juxtaposition of that law with the Shema—to love God with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Some Jews follow the instruction to recite the Shema, at least twice a day, to teach it to one’s children, and to refer to it frequently; in other words, to make it a lifetime habit. Jesus, himself a rabbi, would have us do the same thing while also remembering “to love your neighbor as yourself.” At the same time, we should not be confused by the inclusion of “as yourself”; for true love for “the other” is without any hidden agenda “to get something out of it” or to win something for oneself in return. Loving God completely by loving our neighbor needs to be a pure and unselfish act: I feed the hungry and I shelter the homeless pure and simply because it’s the right thing to do—it’s the will of God! How wonderful, if by reciting this Shema daily and often, love of neighbor would become a habit.
Jesus’ ultimate love for us was to lay down his very life for us, and he did not do it to get something out of it for himself. No surprise to us, then, that Jesus’ great commandment is to “Love one another as I have loved you.” Just maybe this is the real definition of “unconditional love”—the willing of good for the other as other. And perhaps a good motivation for us to pick up this daily habit might well be Jesus’ words to the scribe: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Shouldn’t we all want that?