Hosea 14:1-9 | Mark 12:28-34
Hear, O Israel.
Return, O Israel.
We live in a particularly noisy world. Hosea and Jesus both certainly experienced the noisiness of our world, but we seem today to confront a kind of cacophony that is unique and acute. Even in the silences of our homes, the noise of the world calls to us from printed page and digital screen, hungry for our attention.
All the more difficult it can be to hear the voice of God in our lives, surrounded by the siren songs of marketing campaigns and the mandates of a twenty-first century pace.
I am sure the scene we’ve just heard in the temple at Jerusalem was a noisy one. This chapter of Mark’s gospel has seen one conflict after another. The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders have questioned the origin of Jesus’ authority; a group of Pharisees and Herodians has tried to trap him by inquiring as to his religious and political allegiances; some Sadducees have tried to deny Jesus’ resurrection claims by positing a logical quandary to him about a hypothetical woman and her seven hypothetical husbands.
Yet in the midst of a noisy dispute, we hear the voice of a lone scribe ask Jesus, Which commandment is the first of all?Even as the world—his friends, neighbors, and enemies—surround Jesus with myriad claims, questions, and traps, he responds to the question with an economy of language—indeed, an economy of scripture—that cuts right to the point. The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
Shemah Yisrael; Hear, O Israel.
Hear what? What are we to hear amid the noisy din? The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Did this lone scribe see through the angry discourse? Did he, in some way unknown to him, hear in Jesus the voice of the Father? You are not far from the Kingdom of God. The greatest expression of obedience begins with hearing, hearing that responds in love. You shall love the Lord your God; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.Hearing is the obedience that empowers us to respond in love; and we hear because we are loved.
This season, we are invited into a unique and counterintuitive freedom by the One who bids us behold His unity, His wholeness. His is the Word of wholeness that works its mercy and skill in our heart, if we incline our ear. It is the Word of Life that heals [our] disloyalty, that[causes us to] blossom like a lily, and strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
Hear, O Israel.
Still, God bids us do more than listen. Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God… take words with you and return to the lord; say to him, ‘Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria shall not save us;… we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.
Hear, O Israel…
Return, O Israel,..
It is likely no coincidence that these two imperative verbs, hear (Shemah)and return (Shuwah)share a similar cadence that would have been recognizable in a culture that relied on oral transmission.
Perhaps this Lent, to hear is also to return. To return our attention—our worship—to the One who has loved us each day by day and in eternity. To return to the places that may feel blind, or deaf, or lost, and to see the grace of God, the Word of Life, written even there; that in returning, we may learn, amid the noise, to speak only what we hear from Jesus, who holds us in the bosom of the Father. To listen, that in hearing we may speak only, and firstly, the love of God.
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