If you look closely at my forearms today you’ll notice “LOVE & SERVE” on my left forearm and a heart shape on my right. Yesterday, when the black Sharpie print was darker, folks caught glimpses of my forearms, partially covered by my half-rolled black clergy shirt. Someone even commented, “Fr. Marshall, I didn’t know you had tattoos.” I thought I maybe should go with it and say, “Yes, I just had them done. What do you think?” Instead, I recalled to them the following story.
The virtue for the month at Saint John’s School is obedience. The reading for this week is from Deuteronomy 11: “The Lord says, ‘You must listen carefully to the commands I give you today: You must love the Lord your God, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul.’”
This might sound familiar because we often recount in church that Jesus said the greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Deuteronomy continues, “’Remember these commands I give you. Keep them in your hearts. Write them down and tie them on your hands and wear them on your foreheads as a way to remember my laws. Teach these laws to your children. Talk about these things when you sit in your houses, when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. Write these commands on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.’”
I told our students that in Moses’ day (to whom Deuteronomy is attributed) the “hand” started at the tips of the fingers and ran down to the elbow. We have names – fingers, palm, hand, wrist and forearm — but they simply had “hand”. I showed them one way to “tie them to the hands” is inscribe them on one’s forearm. That way farmers can continue to farm or a 21st century priest can type, shake hands, and celebrate communion without worrying about something tied around the palm. I asked an 8th grader to write “LOVE & SERVE” on my left forearm and a heart on my right to symbolize “with all your heart and soul.”
All day, I caught glances of God’s command to love and serve the Lord with all my heart and soul. It caused me to think if I was being obedient to God’s command. I saw it when I dialed a phone number, when eating lunch, when I looked up a Bible passage on-line, at Bible study, and during the numerous meetings I had that day and even when I picked up our to-go order from our favorite Chinese food restaurant. When I finally sat down in the evening, I put my feet up on an ottoman, stretched, and saw “LOVE & SERVE' which made me ponder if I, even sitting at home, was being obedient.
Imagine if we all took this command literally and wrote it on our forearms and our foreheads. What if we taught that command to our children and talked about it when we sat in our homes, commuted to work, when we lay down and got up. Imagine if it was written on the doorposts of our homes and on our gates. Despite the constitution, what if it were written over Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House and across the dome of our State Capitol. What if we listened carefully to the commands that God gives us. What would our obedience produce?