Jewish Jesus

"You are not far from the Kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34).

In today's Gospel we see why the Sh'ma, the prayer said daily by Jesus and all Jews, was regarded as the First Commandment that encompassed all other commandments of the Law.  

The scribe who asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, was so moved by Jesus' recitation of the sh'ma (the Hebrew word for "hear"), that he joyfully repeats the entire prayer himself: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord your God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength." 

This prayer was the foundation of Jewish spirituality. It was God's compelling invitation to acknowledge and obey the most basic reality of all -- that we are totally dependent on God, who called us into being, created us from nothing, gave us the divine image and likeness, named us and loved us. Because God initiated our very existence, there is only one relationship we can base our identity on and direct our lives by. We live and grow and have our being in responding to God in the same way-- by loving God as God has loved us, totally and unconditionally, with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength. To respond less than this would diminish our very being, for we would be withholding ourselves from the dynamic flow of love that is the source of our existence. 

Jesus lived this basic invitation with perfect obedience ( a word whose root is also "to listen"), and every aspect of his life followed within and from this prayer. He preached this commandment. His ministry to the poor flowed from the implications of this prayer (the "second" commandment to love neighbor as self). His confrontation with the religious leaders of his time and the Roman state was the result of his obedience to the commandment to put love before every other gain or goal in his life. This uncompromising priority challenged the status quo of a world based on injustice and oppression. His death on the cross was therefore also the result of his obedience, as was the divine affirmation of his resurrection. 

Can there be any other spirituality or form of discipleship for us as imitators of Jesus?  To be good Christians, we need only to begin again as good Jews. If we pray as Jesus did we will live as he lived.  Everything else will follow from this foundation and organizing principle. For it is the first and greatest of all the commandments.