I have a brother who is five years younger than I am. Growing up, I remember when he got to the “why phase.” Whenever my parents would ask us to do something, or when they described an event in our future he would ask, “Why?” Why do we need to go to the store? Why must Adam do his homework? Why is the sky blue? In last week’s newsletter, Catherine Malotky described how a congregation might undertake a “gratitude campaign.” This week, our newsletter series on Giving Thanks continues with the why. Why stewardship? Why gratitude? Raymond Bonwell reminds us that all our gifts, and all our stewardship happens, “in the Shadow of the Shema.”
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
Stewardship in the Shadow of the Shema
By Raymond Bonwell
When Jesus is asked to name the greatest commandment (Mark 12:30; Luke 10:37), he responds from a position of abundance and offers two. The first is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and the second is “to love your neighbor as yourself.” These relationships (vertical with God, horizontal with neighbor) point beyond the merely spiritual to the physical and incarnational. Jesus’ answer lies in what I call “the Shadow of the Shema.”
When Jesus answers “to love the Lord your God with all your heart…”, this is not a new or unfamiliar passage to the Jewish audience. Jesus is drawing from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, what Donald McKim calls “the central theological and liturgical affirmation of Judaism.” The name “shema” comes from the Hebrew word that begins this passage — “shema” means “hear.”
While the quotation of the Shema ends with v. 9, it is vv. 10-12 that expands the scope and importance of what is at stake. These verses read:
10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you — a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant — then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Notice how this is a litany of things that God has provided — cities, houses, wells, vineyards and groves (the latter to partake and be satisfied).
Many people worship in communities of faith where they are not a “founding member.” Many people are joining communities of faith that were established before they joined, and will continue after they leave. In other words, we are worshipping those in the Holy City (Revelation 21:2) we did not build, in houses of worship filled with resources we did not provide, where we are able to eat (of the bread) and drink (from the cup) and be satisfied.
Let’s be both grateful and mindful that we are entrusted to watch over these physical resources to help form the faith. Collectively, we must take care we “do not forget the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:12).
And if this first part of the “greatest commandment” is in regard to the vertical relationship with God, then I think the second part of the horizontal relationship with our “neighbor” can also be informed by the shadow of the Shema.
Take, for example, the description of “neighbor” from the children’s programs “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood.” Sesame Street’s lyrics “People in your Neighborhood” remind us that neighbors are “the people that we meet each day” and Mister Rodgers greets everyone with a warm, friendly, “Hello, Neighbor.” Our neighbors are so much more than those who are geographically residing near us — our neighbors are better understood as those who we encounter in our daily activities. And this answer certainly fits the question asked to Jesus in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
And the Shadow of the Shema reminds us to be stewards of, with, and for our neighbors, too. We are to use our resources (our cities, our homes, our food and drink) to better serve those who we encounter daily. From a consumer mentality, some may see these as “mine” — they are “my possessions.” But the Christian response is to realize the gifts, skills and talents that made these acquisitions possible in the first place come from God, and should be used to give God glory.
If the “greatest commandment” is to be summarized as “love God and love neighbor,” then we can look at the broader passage cited to “love God” in Deuteronomy. Reading the next three verses remind us that all we have is meant to help us remember the great things the Lord has done for us. And, for that, may we truly be thankful.
Check out the rest of the Giving Thanks series:
A Gratitude Campaign by Catherine Malotky
The Ancient Art of Thanking by Robert Hay, Jr.
For this, I give thanks by Ingrid C. Arneson Rasmussen
Gratitude and the Simplicity Movement by Adam J. Copeland
Raymond Bonwell is the Director at the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). A classically trained economist, his first professional career was twelve years in institutional investing and personal financial planning. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, he served two churches and as a Director at Princeton for five years. He reflects on the intersection of faith and finances at https://twitter.com/raymondbonwell.