First Reading:  Deuteronomy 6:2-6


The Shema


2 Fear YHWH your God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, you, and your son, and your son’s son, all the days of your life; and that your days may be prolonged. 3 Hear therefore, Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with you, and that you may increase mightily, as YHWH, the God of your fathers, has promised to you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. 4 Hear, Israel: YHWH is our God; Yahweh is one: 5 and you shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 These words, which I command you this day, shall be on your heart.


World English Bible


The verses of this passage sum up the crisis in which the Deuteronomy first appeared (about 900 B.C. during the reign of the kings in Israel and Judah). Faith in the God of Israel was challenged by the practices of fertility gods. Originally popular in the rural area, worship of these gods found its way into the city, especially among the ruling class.


Other issues faced the nation that were reflected in the pages of Deuteronomy. Economic power began to shift from the country side to the cities. Urban money lenders charged exorbitant rates to farmers and claimed the land of delinquent debtors. Debtors sold themselves into slavery so they could buy food to feed their families. In addition, political power became corrupt. Judges took bribes and showed favors to the wealthy. Economically and politically, the gap widened between the rich and the poor.


Deuteronomy appeared to reform these injustices. It reaffirmed the Ten Commandments with the power of a God's personal revelation (Deuteronomy 5). In the midst of fear from God's power and the blessing of God's promise, Moses proclaimed these famous lines: love God with your being and life. These words summarized the covenant allegiance God had with his chosen. This allegiance defined the identity of the Israelite.


In the second century AD, the Shema found a definitive form:


4 "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; 5 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (RSV)


13 "And if you will obey my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. 15 And he will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be full. 16 Take heed lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, 17 and the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and he shut up the heavens, so that there be no rain, and the land yield no fruit, and you perish quickly off the good land which the Lord gives you."


Deuteronomy 11:13-21 (RSV)


18 "You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 And you shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 20 And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.


Numbers 15:37-41 (RSV)


From these passages it is obvious the Shema stressed fidelity to the covenant in word, deed, and lifestyle. They were to be prayed twice a day. And they were idealized as the words of a dying Jew preparing to meet God.


How do the words of the Shema form your faith? How could you weave the Shema into your prayer life?