There was a Rabbi whose name was Akeba, one of the great Rabbis in Jewish history. As the Romans grew in power, they made a law outlawing the study of Torah. Akeba continued to study and teach Torah. His students said to him, ''Rabbi, why do you continue to do this so publicly when you know it is against the law and you could be captured and tortured?''
Akeba said, ''There once was a fox who sat looking into a stream, looking at fish swimming rapidly back and forth. The fox said to the fish, ''Why do you swim like that?, and the fish said ''We are trying to avoid the nets of the fisherman.'' The fox said, ''Why dont you come out here on the shore by me, then you wont have to worry about the fisherman?'' The fish said, ''Living in the stream with the fisherman is difficult indeed, but imagine what it would be like to be in a place that you were not created for!''
You and I have been created to be disciples of Jesus Christ; THAT is our stream and YES, it is difficult and the fishermens nets are as difficult to evade as they are for a fish, but to be out of the stream and not to be in the environment of discipleship how much worse?
They arrested him and tortured him. As they were torturing him, they would put him in and out of the fire. Whenever he came out of the fire he would shout the Shema. The Roman officer chided Akeba by saying, ''Rabbi, are you mocking us by continuing to quote the Shema? Are you making fun of us and belittling our punishment?'' Akeba said, ''No! – but all my life I wanted to know how it was that I could love the Lord my God with all my soul. Now that I am about to give it to Him – how could I do any less?''
May you and I be challenged as disciples of Jesus and recognize how hard it is to be a disciplethe environment which God intended us to live in, and how much worse it would be if we did not love the Lord with all our hearts and all our souls and all of our might!
I am indebted to the teaching of Ray Vanderleen for this story. The questions that emerge from this is... ''What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?'' and ''How can I love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul, and all my strength?''
I find it noteworthy that when Jesus was approached by someone in the crowd and asked what the greatest commandment was that He quoted the Shema.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ''Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'' Jesus replied: ''Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'' - Matthew 22:34-40
For the Jew today the Shema is quoted at least two times a day and it is the prayer of the faithful that it would be the last words spoken before one departed this earth to be in the presence of God.
Shma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
(click here for the actual Hebrew)
V-ahavta et Adonai Elohecha b-chol lvavcha u-v-chol nafshcha u-v-chol modecha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Lets take some time to walk through the beginning of this venerated prayer.
Hear, O Israel
Let me first state the obvious - we are initially exhorted to Hear. It is interesting to note that in all the senses that God has given us (to touch, to see, to smell, to taste) that the one that seems to be the choice of the Holy Spirit is to hear!
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ''LORD, who has believed our report?'' So, then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. - Romans 10:16-17
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. - Revelation 2:29
What are you hearing today? What are you listening to?
We need to be hearing the Word of God! It is the stream we swim in! We live in a noisy world, and we are being bombarded with so many things - whether it be the noise of our natural environment, the noise of Madison Avenue, or our own personal volume. We also need to realize that the noise is also in the spiritual dimension- probably more so than we ever realize. The devil is after our minds and he has the ability to attack our minds it really is noisy out there!
So, with that in mind - the obvious is not that easy! It is not that easy to hear, and when we get to that place where we are listening, it becomes imperative that we listen to the right thing. We need to hear GOD! How do we do that? What does his voice sound like? The Scripture tell us more times than not that Gods voice will be a still small voice. Remember Elijahs plight?
Then He said, ''Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.'' And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ''What are you doing here, Elijah?'' - 1 Kings 19:11-13
And the Psalmist words:
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. - Psalm 46:10
As the so-called ''People of the Book'' (one of the titles given to Christians and Jews by the followers of Islam), we must realize that God speaks to us primarily through His Word and we must be a community devoted to the Text! We must proclaim the text to one another. Being a disciple in todays world is not easy and oftentimes can be quite discouraging! We need to be encouraged and edified!
On my last visit to Israel, I had an experience that is seared into my mind. We were traveling with a Jewish group and we were extended an invitation to welcome in Shabbat at the Western Wall followed by a Shabbat dinner at HaTorah, a yeshiva (school) overlooking the Western Wall Plaza. Little did I realize what I was in for - I was in a room filled with young rabbinical students.
Our meal came in different courses and between each course the Rabbi, who was the ''master of ceremonies,'' had something that would be a sort of segue to the next course. I will never forget when he stood and said ''It is time to reflect on the Text'' and he called out the name of one who happened to be one of the leaders of our tour. ''Avi, what reflection from our weekly readings do you have?'' Now I could tell this was not planned and as Avi stood, he encouraged us with his take on the Torah portion for the week. When he sat down, one of the students began to sing and before you knew it, we were up dancing and quoting the Text! I will never forget that evening and the experience of being a part of a community that edified one another with the Text!
How we as Christians need that today! We should be ready at the drop of a hat to give reflection and comment on our weekly reading. The problem for the church today is that so many Christians suffer from malnourishment; we are living in famine conditions but the famine has nothing to do with food (most of our waistlines prove that!) but our famine is like the one that Amos spoke of:
''The days are coming,'' declares the Sovereign LORD, ''when I will send a famine through the land - not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.'' - Amos 8:11
Take time this month to be in the Word and use it to encourage a fellow disciple!