Sunday, November 05, 2006

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (Year B, Proper 26; 22 Pentecost)


Today's appointed reading is Deuteronomy 6:1-9, which contains one of the most important affirmations of all of Scripture, the Shema'. There are several legitimate ways of translating Deut 6:4, the verse is so rich with meaning. (God's incomparability and God's singularity of intention are just two of the possibilities for the meaning of the verse.) The NRSV, however, does a pretty good job here: Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone (very much along the same lines are NJPS, NAB, NLT). Note especially the rendering of the Hebrew אֶחָד as "alone." Here, the meaning is as follows: God, as our Lord and covenant suzerain, should be of exclusive, unrestricted value for us. As God's vassal people and disciples, we owe God our total allegiance and uncompromised devotion. We must allow God alone to be God for us.

The next verse, Deuteronomy 6:5, actually spells this out. It states that we must love God with: בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶךָ (traditionally rendered: all our "heart," "soul," and "might").

A good case can be made for a progression here, working outward from the inner life of the person. First mentioned is the "heart" / "mind," which makes up a person's hidden reasonings and intentions. Next listed is the "soul," which is the living person, the essential, unique self. This would be the middle term in the equation, the whole differentiated person if you will. Finally, allegiance with all one's "might" / "strength" is expected. The "might" is the extended self, including one's family networks, possessions, and entire sphere of control and influence (Cf. E. Peterson: "love him with all you've got!").

Taking all three elements here, we have the full, extended being of a person. We have the idea of all that one is and has. So, in sum, according to Deut 6:5 the goal of biblical spirituality is for us to devote ourselves to God with all that we are and all that we have. To do that is to have the right relationship to God!

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