Jesus: “Hear, O Israel”

When we hear the Lord Jesus quote the Shema in order to express the greatest commandment, He draws us back into the beautiful drama of the book of Deuteronomy.

Hear, O Israel. You shall not have strange gods.

Now, the “strangeness” of any god other than God—this strangeness runs deeper than just ancient Jewish national identity.

Serving any god other than the real God estranges any human being from himself, not just a Jew.

The ancient Israelites received gestures of love and friendship from the Almighty Creator of heaven, earth, and every nation. Therefore, when we Gentiles read about God’s dealings with the Israelites—that is, when we read the Bible—the storyline does not come off as “strange” at all.

To the contrary, a harmony sounds in the depths of our souls: This God of the ancient Israelites is no stranger to us. He is our Maker and our Lord. We have known Him since the first moment we looked with wonder upon His world. The Bible is not the book of a foreign people. It is our book, because this is our God. The one God.

In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people: Do not degrade yourselves by serving anyone or anything other than God.

Do not degrade yourselves. In other words: We do not serve God for God’s sake; we serve Him for our sake. Unlike the strange pagan gods who manipulate, mistreat, and play vicious games with their adherents, the true God deals with us with strong, serene, and generous love.

Of course, God is nonetheless breathtakingly demanding. While serving Him does not in any way demean us, it does, however, require of us something more than any strange god could ever demand.

A person could spend his whole life as a slave of avarice or lust, exhausting himself while piling up money or chasing pleasure. But the innermost depths of such a man would never be touched. All his other faculties get strained to the breaking point with futile exertion, but his heart of hearts atrophies within him, like an un-used muscle.

Serving God, on the other hand, demands constant exercise of the center-point of my very being. We cannot serve the true God any other way than by loving Him with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength.

St. Paul’s Faithfulness

Like a spiritual father and a good friend, St. Paul wrote to Timothy. Let’s consider for a moment three ways in which the great Apostle kept faith.

1. St. Paul kept faith with his ancestors, the children of Abraham, the nation of Israel. Paul was a rabbi, a zealous adherent of Moses’ law. He undertook his mission as an Apostle of Christ not to depart from his Jewish heritage, but to keep faith with it. Christ had fulfilled the Law and the promises that the prophets received. St. Paul perceived this, and he served Abraham, Moses, and the nation of Israel—by serving Christ.

2. St. Paul kept faith with Christ’s promise of eternal life. Paul never encountered a single event without understanding it by the light of faith. Everything happened to prepare for eternity.

Am I achieving success in organizing a church here in this town? It is for the salvation of souls and the kingdom of God. Am I sick, hungry, and alone because they threw me out of this other town? Then my sufferings serve the cause of building up Christ’s mystical Body. Am I imprisoned in Rome? Then there is a soul in this prison with me that I am meant to touch with the Good News.

Everything by the light of faith—faith in the promises of Christ: The final day will come. The dead will rise. God is the God of the living, not the dead.

3. And St. Paul kept faith with his friends. The New Testament testifies to many wonderful things. But one thing it most certainly testifies to is this: It is the written record of some of the most beautiful, most loving, most intimate and pure friendships that the world has ever seen or ever could see.

Christ taught the human race how to be a friend. St. Paul put the lesson into immediate practice. He prayed for; he lived for; he spent all his intellect and strength for; and then he died for his friends.

Let’s pray that some of St. Paul’s enormous faithfulness will rub off on us.

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