Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai ehad. Baruch shem kevod malchuto le-olam va-ed. Translated into English: (Hear O Israel that the Lord your God is one. Blessed is the name of his glorious kingdom forever.)
In seminary, every course I took in the Hebrew Scriptures taught by the Scripture scholar Dr. Richard Lux began with the Shema prayer in Hebrew that I just prayed for you. As you can tell, I still remember it by heart. Dr. Lux, a learned scholar from the University of Notre Dame who spent his entire professional career teaching seminarians at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Milwaukee, always wore a yamaka, the traditional Jewish prayer cap, while we prayed this prayer in class, and it was unusually color-coordinated with his outfit that day or matched the liturgical season. Dr. Lux was quite an interesting character, a man who is one the most compassionate and caring people I have ever met. The Shema prayer is the centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. It captures the essence of the Jewish faith. Certainly, Jesus, as a devout Jew, would have prayed the Shema prayer everyday of his life.
In our Gospel from Matthew today, Jesus quotes the Shema as the greatest commandment, that the Lord our God is Lord alone. In our busy modern world where we are always multi-tasking and scattered in so many directions, how do our words and actions reflect that the Lord our God is our Lord alone, that we love him with all our souls, with all our minds, with all our hearts? Do we let our worldly concerns and goals prioritize our energy, or is that energy directed primarily to God?
All through Lent, we have had a rock as a symbol of all that burdens us, of all that weighs us down, of all that keeps us from declaring that the Lord our God is Lord alone. When we complete our Lenten journey at the end of Holy Week, when we exalt the cross on Good Friday in recognition of how Jesus died for our sins, we will place our rock and all that weighs us down at the foot of his cross. May we be ready to truly give up all that keeps us from God, all that burdens us during our journey of faith.