This was the clarion call to a slave people in the infancy of being shaped into a nation. It became the Shema, the central tenet of the religious faith of every Jew. The call was made by God through Moses, initially, to a people in the wilderness – and that is as significant for us, as it was for them.
If we are honest, we all know what a wilderness experience is like. We have strayed there of our own choice and got lost. We have been dumped there by causes outside our control like Covid, or unemployment, or national crisis. The wilderness experience has come upon us when separated from someone we dearly loved, when ageing slowly paralyzed our movements, when poverty dried up our resources, when tragedy destroyed in moments all we had accumulated and treasured, when the nest in which we raised our children is empty and cold. Some struggle in the wilderness of addiction, or the steady decay of dementia terminating their independence and ability. What a wilderness it is when all our friends leave us, when poverty deprives us of essentials, when depression grips, when loyalty alienates us to stand alone, when all we have worked for crumbles around us. In truth, we are never alone, but it feels like it.
After his ecstatic experience of baptism Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit and was tested to the limit by ideas and temptations to divert him from his loyalty to God. We are not told God said anything to him during that time, but it does say ‘angels ministered to him’ (Matthew 4:11).
In my wilderness experiences God also remained silent, but I did receive the ministry of human angels, by a word of encouragement, a touch of empathy, a visit of love. A new nation was born in the wilderness. There are angels today, wearing masks, ministering to others in the wilderness of suffering.
The call is to hear, but sometimes we can’t hear because of all the noise around and within us. Sometimes we don’t want to hear; it’s too uncomfortable and disturbing. Sometimes we try to listen, but we are met with silence.
This call comes because God is – that’s the only explanation for the Voice. It takes us beyond belief in the reality of the call then plunges us into faith action ’Do what you are told’. What are they, and we, asked to do? ‘Love God with your whole heart….with all that’s within you…..with all that you have got’ (TM). It doesn’t say you shall accept certain beliefs, or abstain from certain indulgences, or submit to prescribed rituals. It says ‘Love God’ that comes first, so exactly how do we do that? One answer given is, by loving everything and everyone God has brought into being. It is as simple and as difficult as that. Jesus said ‘Love as I have loved you’ John15). Paul said ‘Faith expressed in love is all that matters’ (Galatians 5:6). The whole Bible is about listening to God and learning to love. The ‘call’ is made repeatedly to Israel, and to every Jew today. God is addressing Israel, the Church, and all his people everywhere. It is a call to Israel, to the Church, to the world.
Another word for Hear is, Listen up! You who are spreading conspiracy theories, you misleading others with looney lies, you about to seduce or rape, you evading every attempt to avoid justice or inflicting injustices, you engaged in creating ecological disaster, endangering the lives and livelihoods of others, you soaked in wealthy excess, you regarding your race as superior to another, you setting up a company overnight to make easy money. ’Listen up!’ I can understand the validity of the ‘call’ to first love God being made to them, but what about those good, honest, blameless, helpless people lost in a wilderness not of their own making but dumped there by others.
The ‘call’ would sound hollow, meaningless to a mother standing in the midst of the ashes of her home, or to the widow whose innocent husband has been shot, or to someone retrenched unable to make mortgage payments put on the street, or to one prevented from seeing, or saying a final goodbye to a loved one suffocating with Covid. It would be hard to understand or accept.
If you, dear reader, are presently in the wilderness for any reason, read deeper in Deuteronomy, God is patient, he goes on to say ‘I will bring you through’, ‘I will not forsake you’, ‘I will bless you’, ‘I will keep my covenant of love’. You can depend on that.