“Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God the Lord alone!”
This verse from our first reading this Sunday comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It is called the “Shema” and is the centrepiece of daily Jewish worship, as well-known and central as the Lord’s Prayer is to Christians. It begins with a call to pay special attention: “Hear, O Israel!” The actual Hebrew text uses the name of God YAHWEH which is never to be spoken out loud by Jewish people due to reverence for God. Therefore, in the many times that the divine name appears in this text it is replaced by the word “Lord,“ (This is similar to the tradition many Catholics still follow of bowing their heads at the spoken name of “Jesus”). It is included in the written text, however, to emphasize the deep personal character of the relationship with God to which the Jewish people are called in this passage. The statement that the Lord is “our” God enhances that personal relationship. The Jewish people are to enjoy both the benefits and the responsibilities of an exclusive and especially intimate relationship with Yahweh.
It is many years now since I first heard that Jesus wanted to have a personal relationship with me. At that time, the idea was extremely novel and entrancing. I could not imagine that Jesus would want to have any kind of relationship with me. I thought that he was “up there” in the heavens, oblivious to what was happening in my life “down here.” These days, the idea of having a “personal relationship” with Jesus is not so novel. Recent Popes have spoken about it as central to what it means to be a Christian. Still, for many Catholics, it is a strange and somewhat troubling idea to get their minds (and hearts) around.
However, what separates the Christian God from the so-called “gods” of ancient times, or in this modern era, is that this God of ours has actively entered into our human history at key moments to inaugurate just such a personal encounter. Our God wants to be known, wants us to seek after him, with the promise that he will allow us to “find” him and enjoy a personal relationship with him (cf Jeremiah 29: 11- 14). The question for us, however, is: Am I willing to seek after such a personal relationship with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit? If you want to know more about this, can I encourage you to come along to our Alpha course on Sunday nights?