In Mark 12, when Jesus answers the scribe who asks, “What is the greatest commandment?” and repeats the words of the she-ma to his followers, he concludes with the command to “love the Lord with all your strength…..”
Remembering how Jacob wrestled at Peniel with an angel of the Lord, or how Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers or even how Jesus himself carried the weight of the cross to his own crucifixion, we might wonder how literally we should take his words. But as with the words from Psalm 19 that we just prayed, Jesus isn’t speaking of physical strength or even of character, but the strength – the power and resilience – given us by God and experienced in faith, and it is grounded in a witness of all of God’s might acts across history.
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet recalls the character and actions of the Lord our God who has acted throughout history to save God’s people. In the first eleven chapters, the prophet has been narrating Judah’s history and in the remaining chapters there will judgment and rebuke against the people of Israel, and eventually, an offering of hope restored to returning exiles.[i] But in chapter 12, Isaiah stops and offers his own doxology or hymn
of thanksgiving and praise.
For us the prophet’s words provide us with a turning point. Throughout Lent, we have been looking back at the covenant relationship that God has given us and our ancestors of faith before us; now in the last week of Lent, we are approaching Holy Week which will begin with Sunday’s liturgy of the palms, when we will stop and enter into Jerusalem with Jesus, accompanying him with waving palm branches and shouts of Hosanna, words that means “Save us.”.
Fittingly, Isaiah’s “own name means God of salvation.”[ii] Salvation is one of those words that stirs debate but generally, most of us can agree with the definition Old Testament professor Rolf Jacobson provides: “human salvation is from something bad, for something good, and is accomplished by God.”[iii] In Lutheranism, on the matter of salvation, everything depends on God. Salvation is God’s free and unmerited gift to us.
In these two stanzas, the prophet recognizes that God desires relationship more than judgment, saying “for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away.” And then he echoes the words of Moses and the Israelites when they were delivered from the Red Sea:
The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.[iv]In Lent we have been mirroring Jesus’ own forty days in the desert, fasting and praying. So where , like Jesus, and like the Israelites before him, do we now find our strength?
and then he describes God’s gifts of goodness and abundance as wellsprings.
How much greater now is our own thirst for the things of God because we have fasted from impulses?
How fitting it is then that the prophet invites us to share in the joy of the unexpected and undeserved experience of God as we conclude this season where God has drawn us into closer relationship.
Let us pray.[v]
O Lord our God,
Show us your everlasting love that we may serve you from the obedience of our hearts.
Lead us in the way of your peace, that our souls may be restored.
Guide us in the way of the cross, that we might proclaim the strength of your love.
We pray in the name of Your Son Jesus,
[i] Elizabeth Webb. Working Preacher Commentary.
[ii] Audrey West. Working Preacher Commentary.
[iii] Rolf A. Jacobson, Ed. Crazy Talk.
[iv] Exodus 15:2
[v] Adapted from Sundays and Seasons Midweek Lenten Series: You Shall Love the Lord Your God.