By Deacon Don Griffith
Leading up to the encounter with the scribe, our Blessed Redeemer was approached by some Pharisees and some Herodians trying to trap our Lord with a question about paying taxes to Caesar. Our Lord escapes their snare and responds with render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Then the Sadducees get in the act and Jesus just straight up tells them that’s why you are wrong- you don’t know the scriptures nor the power of God. This scribe saw the way our Lord answered these groups of people. He’s a smart guy a student of the law and even though it’s not explicit in the scripture, we can imagine that he’s a pretty astute individual and may have an idea of why the Pharisees asked the question they asked in the way they asked it and why the Sadducees asked their question in the way they asked it—and he is amazed at the profoundness of Jesus’ answers. He’s trying to wrap his mind around his answers. He probably was thinking to himself I debate those guys all the time and if they would have asked me that I would have been stuck- I would have never thought to say that. Where does such wisdom come from? So he goes and asks Jesus a question- which commandment is first of all? The venerable Bede tells us that this was a grave question, a serious question that was often debated by the scribes and Pharisees. Some praised offerings and sacrifices, others preferred acts of faith and love. Jesus answers you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. That is to say we should love God with all of our being. To render to God the thing’s that are God’s. And to this our Lord commands us to love our neighbor as our self. All of the Old covenant law, the prophets the 10 commandments are summed up by these 2 commands. But that’s not the end. It is important to remember that the 10 commandments are our loving response to God’s love. He first loved us and sent his Only Begotten Son. If we obey the commandments out of fear of punishment, then the relationship we have with God is one as a slave and God is a controlling taskmaster. If we obey the commandments out of love, then the relationship we have with God is one who is a child because we do what is right out of love for God and it pleases the Father when his children act rightly. God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted sons and daughters. But the old summary is not quite all that God wanted for his adopted sons and daughters. For God’s adopted sons and daughters, it would no longer be sufficient that I love God and I love my neighbor as myself. Our Redeemer gave us a new commandment to love on another as I have loved you. Now this is fitting for God’s adopted daughters and sons—to love God as God loves God and to love neighbor as God loves neighbor. To love as the Savior loves-this command was given to us on the night the Eucharist was given to us and that is not a coincidence. God gives the grace to love that way in the sacraments, and in the Blessed Sacrament in particular because it is Christ Himself. This is what is happening here. In this priestly action of Christ we get caught up in loving God as God loves God and loving neighbor as God loves neighbor so that we can go out from here and look upon the person in front of us and know that my Savior poured out His blood for that person-He loves that person. If I love Jesus, how could I do otherwise? So we can see the centrality and the necessity of the Eucharist. That’s why all the prayers of this mass refer to the Eucharist. Remember the Collect: Merciful God by whose gift- by the Eucharist your faithful offer you right and praiseworthy service, that we may hasten to receive the things you have promised. The Prayer over the offerings (that prayer after we all say may the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands…) in that prayer we ask that the sacrificial offerings, become a pure oblation. And in the prayer after communion we pray that we be prepared by the Eucharist to receive what the Eucharist promises. I would just like to remind everyone that today and this week we have some special opportunities to love neighbor as God loves neighbor with the second collection today for those neighbors of ours affected by the hurricanes and also to love God as God loves God as this week is national vocation awareness week, so please pray for vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and the diaconate, as well as encourage young men and women to prayerfully consider these vocations.
By Deacon John Hackett
Many people nowadays have moved from a superficial faith in God to an equally frivolous atheism. Some have eliminated all practice of religion from their lives and have no visible relationship with the church or any faith-community. But what about the personal position one needs to have in the face of the ultimate mystery of life and death?
Some say they don’t believe in the Church or in any “priestly fables”, but that they still believe in God. But what can it mean to believe in a God that you never remember, with whom you never dialogue, from whom you expect nothing? Others feel that in our modern world it’s time to learn to live without God, allowing the individual to live with greater dignity and honesty. But when their lifestyle is examined, it’s not easy to see how abandoning God has helped them to live a more dignified and responsible life.
Too many folks seem to fashion a religion and morality to suits themselves. Never have they sought any horizon other than a certain amount of comfort in life, avoiding any question that might seriously challenge them to conversion. Maybe sometimes we ourselves don’t know to what extent we really believe in God. We go about busily, so taken up by the issues of each day – by our work, by watching TV and by planning how to spend our weekends – that God has little space in our lives. So let’s not imagine that a materialist mindset is limited to professed atheists. This attitude can also infect the hearts of believers. Sometimes we ourselves realize that God isn’t the only Lord we worship…nor even the most important.
Let me try a little test. What do I feel deep down when I hear these words: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Now that’s something to think about… What space does God really occupy in my heart, in my soul, in my mind, in my whole being?
Well, today’s gospel repeats ideals that were already clear in the Old Testament. The command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength was imprinted on the heart of every Jew, as their central daily prayer. This prayer is the Shema since the Hebrew “Shema” means “Listen.” “Listen Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord”. What is special about today’s Gospel is where it says that love of God is inextricably interwoven with love for each other. Any claim to love God is illusory if it does not result in loving other people, reaching out to embrace them as God does.
A Jewish Rabbi named Hillel was a renowned scholar, a spiritual and ethical leader of his generation, with a great following around the time of Jesus. When Hillel asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?” he gave the famous reply, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary.” Jesus also links love of God with love of neighbor, to jointly form the greatest commandment. According to St. Augustine we should (in his words) “Love God first, and then do what you will,” meaning that if we love God properly, we cannot but want others to share in that love. The fourth evangelist, St. John, saw everything in Christ’s life on earth in terms of love, and kept preaching this into his old age. He even declares that “Anyone who says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, is a liar, for how can one who does not love the brother that he can see, love God whom he has never seen?” (1 Jn 4:20).
Loving with all of one’s heart is a truly radical challenge, in imitation of Christ. But it is our Christian vocation. For we believe that life comes from death, that gain comes from loss, that receiving comes from giving, and that Jesus himself had to die to come to the fullness of life. We profess to be followers of one who made a complete offering of himself to the Father and spent his energies and his time in the service of others, who returned to his Father devoid of any earthly goods. This does not imply that we have to tread exactly the same path as Christ. What it does indicate is that genuine surrender to God does not allow us to retreat into a paradise of unreal spirituality. It means that if we love God, we need to be concerned for others, for the members of our family and community. We need to rise above our selfishness and realize that “there is greater happiness in giving than in receiving” as proclaimed in the book of Acts (Acts 20:35).
William Wordsworth, the great English poet once wrote “The world is too much with us, late and soon / getting and spending… we lay waste our powers.” You know, we pass this way but once, and while we are on this journey we need to do as much good as we can with our God-given powers for serving God and others. Always we need to keep in mind the promise of Jesus (Jn 15:5), “Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit..”
Now, unfortunately, the words we sometimes hear: “Complex,” “authoritarian,” “slow to adapt.”, are some inadequate ways of describing our church. We should declare more frankly that religion and life are centered on love, just as Jesus quoted Moses so marvelously in answer to the scribes first question to him. So let’s cut to the quick— what is our religion really about? Our powerful, loving God has loved us into being, and wants us to love… in our turn fully, unconditionally. And…. to prevent us from sliding into a false mysticism, Jesus adds part two…the daily application – love of neighbor…love of “the other”. It’s a lifelong task, and oftentimes a challenge to know how to do it, or to re-start doing it after a lapse, but it’s part and parcel of the very soul of Christian living.
So ok…the question: “Which is the greatest commandment?” was a reasonable question for that Jewish teacher to ask of Jesus. In our Catholic tradition, we often feel the need for a simple guideline: Which rules are major, and which are relatively secondary? Without rejecting any Church teaching, we need to know what is at the core of our faith. Still more was a rule of thumb required to interpret the Jewish law. In a system which listed over 600 religious laws and regulations, even the most pious would fail sometimes to keep them all. So, how could one distinguish the main duties from all the rest? In answer, Jesus quotes the two highest commands of the Old Testament and gave them new force by linking them to each other. There is no genuine love of God without love for our neighbor; and there can be no sustained love of neighbor without an underlying love for God.
How does the love principle intersect with the 10 Commandments, (the Decalogue) which both Jews and Christians revere as key moral rules? Echoing Jesus, St. Paul sees the Decalogue as spelling out some specific implications of love; for whoever loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8). But that sentence cannot be simply reversed, as if keeping the law were the same as loving our neighbor. There’s a real shift of emphasis from the Decalogue’s: “Thou shalt not” to the imperative “Thou shalt.” Of course murder, theft, adultery and lying are forbidden; but Jesus asks much more than that of us, both by his own example (“love one another as I have loved you’) and by the compassion of the Good Samaritan and the motto: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). It is not enough to refrain from sin; we must keep the commandments in a spirit of love.
Is it possible to love God “with all your heart?”; or to cherish another as much as oneself? The love-command is not some regulation that can be simply monitored, and no one can say “I have kept it perfectly; what else is required of me?” Rather, it offers a target, an orientation, a yardstick against which to measure the whole thrust of one’s life-style and goals. Its fulfillment is only partial and provisional, always in need of renewal and reassessment. Jewish tradition tells of old Rabbi El-e-a’-zar, who bravely resisted a foreign king’s decree that all Jews must conform to pagan ways. He was prepared to die a martyr rather than submit by eating a piece of pork; a Jewish no-no. His disciples tried desperately to save the old rabbi. They told him he only needed to pretend to conform, in order to be spared a painful death. But he refused this way out. “All of my life,” he said, “I have wanted to understand what this means, to love Him with all your soul and with all your strength. And now that I am right on the point of finding out… will you persuade me to draw back?’
Well, now against that backdrop, (and in ending), there are still many of us Christians today who see our worship of God in terms of obedience in observing laws and commandments. We go to church on Sunday to fulfill our (quote)”Sunday obligation.” We celebrate the events of Holy Week to do our “Easter duty.” And I’m not knocking all that. But Jesus reminds us today that whatever we do as Christians, in church, in our families, and at work should flow not out of a sense of compulsion but out of love for God and neighbor. You see…Obedience is not the first duty of a Christian. Love is.
The Law of Love
31st Sunday (B) Dt 6:2-6; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28-34
By Deacon Mike Jacobs
Jesus really did not say anything new when asked what the greatest commandment was; he just quoted the Old Testament. So what is so special about the teaching of Jesus?
What is special about Jesus’ teaching here is not what he added but what he accented. He did not really answer the question as it was asked. He did not pick out one of the commandments as first. Instead he focused attention on the spirit, the soul of all the commandments. He said that what God asks us— both in our relationship to God and in our relationship with each other — is to love. This is not so much a new law as a new spirit to transform all laws.
It is a common opinion that a law, to be a law, must be enforceable and that the only way to enforce any law is through fear. That is something to ponder. Some laws we may keep because we happen to agree with them. But when we obey a law precisely as a law, it is because we are afraid of what will happen if we do not — not only to ourselves, but to society in general. Laws are our only protection against chaos. They are the only way for any human society to achieve its goals in a rational, orderly way. Laws defend our national interest. We make them; we keep them all for the same reason: out of fear of what will happen if we do not.
That is why we imprison or kill people who do not obey the law. They are a threat to us and a threat to society — they destroy the order of things that makes it possible for us to achieve our goals on this earth; to realize our dreams and satisfy our desires. Those who break the law are working against what we have agreed to as a society. We see them as enemies.
When Jesus was asked what law was the most important, he answered that the most important thing was not a law at all — not any law – but love. The most important thing on earth is for people to love God and love one another with their whole hearts. He even taught we should love our enemies. This is what we profess to believe as Christians.
But this is not in fact our first priority — neither as individuals, in most cases, not as a nation. Our prisons are not designed to rehabilitate people, to teach them, heal them and convert them. Our prisons are not the kind of places to which we would want our children sent if they broke the law. And our defense system, our armies and arms, are not designed to bring about understanding between ourselves and other nations. They are designed to keep others at bay so that we can pursue our national self interest in the way we choose to pursue it. Our prison system and our national defense system are motivated, not by love but by fear. And what percentage of our budget do we spend on them?
Idealistic? Unrealistic? Now we see what was so different about the teaching of Jesus. He came to call us into a whole new mental framework; to challenge and change some of our most fundamental attitudes and assumptions. Is the most important thing for any society to defend itself? Should survival at any cost be our first priority? Should we be agreed as a nation that we will destroy any people who threaten to destroy our established way of life? Which commandment is the most important for us? Is any commandment more important than love? If we cannot enforce the law or defend our nation without destroying other people – physically, economically or psychologically — do we reluctantly accept that our own wellbeing on this earth must take priority over love? Are we agreed as a society, as a nation, that loving one another is a luxury we can allow ourselves only when we have nothing more to fear? Must we wait until our enemies disarm before we love them? Must we wait until the muggers, thieves, rapists and murders are converted before we love them? Is it really safe to love our enemies? Is being safe the highest value in life? Is being “safe” the same as being “saved”?
Please listen to a reading from this book “The Imitation of Christ” Book three chapter 55 paragraph 4.
Lord, your grace is absolutely necessary for me for starting off some good act, for improving it, for making it perfect. Without it I can do nothing; in you and with the support of your grace, I can do anything. Ah yes grace is something from heaven; without it, our own merits are nothing, our natural gifts of no account whatever. Skill, wealth, beauty, courage, ability, eloquence – all these have no value in your eyes, Lord, unless grace goes with them. The gifts of nature are shared by good and bad alike, whereas grace, or love, is given especially to God’s chosen; those who bear its mark are thought worthy of eternal life. This grace holds so high a position that not even the gift of prophecy, not the working of miracles, not the highest reaches of mystical vision are worth anything apart from it. Why not even faith, hope and the other virtues are acceptable to you without love and grace.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your divine love. Send forth you’re Spirit and they shall be created and you will renew the face of the earth. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.” Proverb 3:5-6