Words Matter


One of the many things that I've learned over the years is that almost every English translation of the Bible has moments where they mangle the original sense of the text and leave the reader with an incomplete understanding of what the authors meant.  

Perhaps one of the most dramatic of these mangled moments occurs with the Shema, a prayer that is introduced in Deuteronomy and then repeated by Jesus.  

The Shema (perhaps the most important prayer in the Hebrew tradition) is one of the great gifts to the world.  It's found in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 5 and is also repeated by Jesus in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). 

It essentially reads:  Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord your God is One.  And you shall love the Lord Your God with all of your heart and all your soul..."  

Most of us see this prayer as having a largely symbolic kind of meaning.  As Dr. Joel Hoffman notes: 
"The English word “heart” refers to emotion and generally excludes intellect. This is why “thinking with your heart” in English means being irrational." 
However, the Hebrew and Greek meaning of the word hear had to do with the very center of a person's being--a place where both thinking and feeling have their origin.  

According to Hoffman, the word "soul" in English typically indicates some sort of "non-tangible, ethereal part of a person," but the Hebrew and Greek words (nephesh and psyche) have wider meanings that extend to tangible aspects of our existence.  This includes our bodies, our breath, and even the way we interact with the world around us.  

I know what you are thinking... "Why does this matter?"  

As it turns out, it matters a lot.  When we dig deeper into the meaning of what Jesus meant when he reiterated the command to love God with all of your heart and soul, we find something truly amazing.  

We are called to love God through everything.  

We must love God with our thoughts and feelings.  We should be intentional with our prayer life, be filled with gratitude and joy, and let our inner being become filled with hope and peace.  

But we are also called to love God through what we can see, touch and experience physically.  This means we love God with our bodies and our minds by keeping them holy and whole.  We love God through the world around us by caring for Creation and loving others.  

This is what it means to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul--it means everything.  

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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