Formations 02.22.2015: Firefighter/Paramedics Hampered by Skewed Training Priorities

Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Mark 12:28-34

af24_2_022215_a_smDavid Givot is an attorney and a former paramedic. In a recent article, he raised the question of whether the ongoing training offered to firefighter/paramedics is suitable to the nature of the job they actually perform.

Across the United States, the ratio of ongoing firefighting training and ongoing EMS training is pretty consistently 10:1. In a recent administrative trial in which he defended a firefighter/paramedic terminated for allegedly providing substandard patient care, the specific numbers were at least 360 hours per year of firefighter training to no more than 36 hours per year of paramedic training.

Even so, roughly 80% of this agency’s call volume was related to patient care and only 20% to fires. This led Givot to ask the senior officers of the department, “How can you truthfully say that you are committed to providing the best patient care when barely 10 percent of your training addresses patient care, which constitutes over 80 percent of your department’s calls?” No one, he says, could answer that question convincingly.

According to Givot, the time allocation for EMS training is “counterintuitive,” “nonsensical,” and “illogical.” Furthermore, he predicts they will increasingly be used to support accusations of negligence and liability.

Everything we do ultimately grows out of our priorities. What matters most? What is the most crucial thing we can or should be doing with our time, energy, and resources? Or, as the legal expert in this week’s Mark passage asks, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28).

Jesus answered the legal expert’s question by quoting Deuteronomy 6: we must love God with all that we are. To this, he added a quotation from Leviticus 19: we must also love our neighbor as ourselves. These great commandments are fundamental to discipleship. Focus on these things, Jesus says, and the rest will tend to fall into place.

David Givot, “Is It Time to Rethink Training Priorities?”, 11 Feb 2015


• When have you been frustrated by workplace demands that seemed out of proportion to the actual needs of your job?
• How can the wrong priorities cause problems in the workplace? How can the right priorities make work more productive?
• What difference can obedience to Jesus’ commandments to love God and others make in our relationships with both God and others?
• In practical terms, how can we live out these commandments?

Reference Shelf

The Shema

Referred to as the shema (from the first word, shema, “hear”), this expression [in Deut 6:4] became in early Judaism a confession of faith. The Nash papyrus (second century B.C.E.) includes the shema with the Ten Commandments in what must have been a liturgical text. Later, by the second century C.E., the shema was enlarged to consist of three parts (Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num 15:37-41). According to Jewish tradition, the shema should be recited morning and evening as part of the prayers. That practice was extended to other occasions, such as the Sabbath service and the festivals, especially the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month. Some practiced its recitation after having gone to bed and just after rising, according to the instruction “When you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 6:7).

By means of the shema Judaism has affirmed its belief in one God over against both ancient polytheism and Christian trinitarianism. But reciting the shema also expresses personal devotion to God and willingness on the part of the worshiper to accept responsibility for the ethical principles of the law, both in the present as well as in the future, through religious instruction of the children.

Niels-Erik A. Andreasen, “Shema ,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 818–19.

Love for God and Neighbor

The Shema, known by the first word of the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:4, is the foundational confession of ancient Israel, a call for complete and exclusive devotion to Yahweh. The command to “hear” is not passive but active. To “hear” means to give heed to and obey. The affirmation that follows may emphasize either the oneness of Yahweh or the exclusivity of Yahweh’s claim on Israel’s devotion. God demands our complete devotion; we are to serve no other God. Therefore, the affirmation of God’s exclusive right to worship is followed by the command to love God with all one’s being. William Lane comments: “The love which determines the whole disposition of one’s life and places one’s whole personality in the service of God reflects a commitment to God which springs from divine sonship.” For ancient anthropology the heart was the center of the will and volition, the center of one’s inner life, the epitome of the person. When one loves God with one’s whole heart, there can be no hypocrisy. Like “heart,” “soul” (psyche) denoted the whole person…. Behind the New Testament usage of psyche lies the Hebrew understanding of the human being as a living, breathing nephesh. James castigates the “double-minded” (dipsychos; Jas 1:8; 4:8) by which he means those whose loyalties are divided, or whose commitments vacillate. When one loves God with one’s whole soul or life (psyche), one’s ultimate allegiance is clear and uncompromised. “Mind” or “understanding” (dianoia) denoted one’s moral consciousness. Paul characterizes the unbelieving Gentiles as “darkened in their under- standing, alienated from the life of God” (Eph 4:18). When one loves God with one’s whole mind, therefore, there can be no confusion about what is right before God. “Strength” (ischys) denotes all human energy and vitality. Ephesians 6:10 admonishes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” Birger Gerhardsson extends the meaning of “strength” to encompass “external resources, power, mammon”—all of one’s possessions, property, and resources. When one loves God with one’s whole strength, one neither squanders life on lesser pursuits nor allows material goods to become false gods. The call to love God therefore claims all that defines our lives.

To this greatest commandment Jesus adds a second: Leviticus 19:18, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31 reproduces the Septuagint text of this command verbatim. Originally, “neighbor” meant one’s fellow Israelite, but by the first century the question of who should be counted as a neighbor was in debate, and in Luke Jesus responds to the question with the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37; cf. Matt 5:43; Rom 13:9-10; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8). The elder of 1 John asks pointed questions about the love command: how can God’s love abide in one who sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help (3:17), and how can one love God, whom he has not seen, if he does not love a brother or sister, whom he has seen? (4:20). The two commands appear already to have been joined (T. Iss. 5:2, “Love the Lord and your neighbor”; see also 7:6, where Issachar says he has loved God and “every human being,” and T. Dan 5:3). Nevertheless, there is no earlier text in which Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 are specifically linked.

Mark’s interest is neither in the definition of “neighbor” nor in the nature of the love that is commanded but in the inseparability of love of God and love of neighbor. The love command does not occur outside this passage in Mark, and the noun agape does not appear in this Gospel. Instead, Mark insists that true belief in God is not expressed through participation in the cultic practices (purity, feasts, or sacrifices) but in keeping the moral law, that is, by loving one’s fellow human being.

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 420–21.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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