4 November 2018 – The 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
In the Gospel there is a scribe who comes forth and asks Jesus, “Which commandment is the first of all?” The scribes were the individuals whose life it was to study, meticulously copy, interpret, comment and debate on the Law of God. In ancient times, there were very few people who could read or write, the Scribes in their ability to do both were in a position of respect because of their knowledge, dedication and “appearance” of keeping the Law.
The Scribe in the Gospel comes forth and asks Jesus his question after listening to Jesus respond to a debate amongst the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the ones responsible for maintaining the temple and collecting the temple taxes. The Sadducees had come to Jesus asking about the resurrection: if there were 7 brothers who one by one married the same woman and each left her a widow without child, whose wife would she be in heaven. Jesus points out that they “know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Mark 12:24) “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mark 12:25) Jesus tells them: “[God] is not a God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:27)
The scribe upon hearing this is intrigued and asks… “Which commandment is the first of all?”
To the scribe, the one who has spent his life meticulously copying down the Word of God, studying it, teaching it; Jesus responds quoting Deuteronomy. He answers the ‘intellectual’ by showing his command and knowledge of the Word of God… for Christ himself IS the Word.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9
The Love of God should permeate every aspect of one’s life. The command to LOVE should be on the heart every moment of the day regardless of the activity being done. Not only that, it should be bound upon our hands so that every action we take with our hands is taken in Love; It should be bound upon our eyes… we should always look out at the world in Love. These actions would naturally result in what Jesus points out as the Second Greatest Commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
In Luke, another ‘Lawyer’ or Scribe asks Jesus ‘Who is one’s neighbor?’ Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan showing that neighbor is any human, regardless of sect, position or religion. (Luke 10:25-37)
God made us as humans to need each other. No individual can exist solely independent. As humans we naturally tend to group ourselves. To define ourselves according to the groups we feel we belong to… be those groups family based, religion based, politically based, racially based… We sort, group, and label… We look at others and decide where they fall into or outside of our groupings. Wanting to know where something belongs. Where its place is.
We have seen this recently with the readings with the disciples themselves wanting to know which is the greatest amongst them… Christ points out whoever wants to be the greatest must be the servant to all… This is counter to our human ideas of belonging and placement. Christ calls us to stop sorting… to stop labeling… to stop looking at things from a limited perspective because our limited perspective has nothing to do with God or the Kingdom of Heaven.
This harkens back to the Sadducees’ question: “In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife?” They wanted to know to whom this woman would belong in the Kingdom of Heaven. Where would her place be. It is harkening to a very basic misunderstanding of God. God does not sort or classify people in this nature. God is only interested in the heart… Is it a Heart of Love? Or a Heart of Hatred? God is not a God of just one people – He has many ‘tribes,’ many nations. God made ALL of creation. ALL of creation belongs to Him. In Heaven we will simply BE with HIM. We will no longer be male or female. We will no longer think in our currently limited terms of family or belonging for ALL will be family and ALL will belong. We will not think of husband, wife, mother, father, siblings… each will simply be a child of God. All shades of black, white, brown, olive; Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindi, Buddhist…
The scribes were often testing Jesus. The scribes, in their interpretations of the Law, often added rituals or rites to the Law which allowed them to classify and sort people according to their ‘appearance’ of abiding by the ‘Laws’ which were passed down and taught. Jesus ridiculed them as being hypocrites for they did not practice that which they taught. Outward piety means nothing to God. Following the sermon on the mount Jesus states: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) All that matters is the quantity and quality of LOVE.
We live in a world of increasing HATRED and crimes of HATE. People label other people as ANIMALS, as inhuman, thinking by labeling them as such they can justifiably exclude or extinguish them. ANYONE who does so is not of Christ. John writes in his first letter, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love… Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe that love God has for us. God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as he is so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:7-8, 15-17)’
We will be judged as we judge others. Those who label others and commit crimes of hate against others will be given a just ‘reward’ – they will be treated as they treated the least of humanity.
Our scribe from the gospel responds to Jesus: “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33) This scribe understands. Outward rituals and piety have no meaning if one’s heart is filled with anything but Love for God and Love for neighbor.
Jesus’ final message to this scribe is both a message and a warning to us all. Jesus sees that the scribe understands and answers with the wisdom and knowledge that all that really matters is the Love within one’s heart. Jesus tells him: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” The Kingdom of God is very simply abiding in God’s Love. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” So simple…
We can disagree with the actions and beliefs of others – but no matter how much we disagree, we still need to Love them. We can attempt to limit their ability to spread HATE and harm others. We can OPT OUT of playing the game of seeking approval, of lobbying for power, position, status… We can OPT OUT and choose to be humble nobodies. We can OPT OUT and support those who are oppressed. We can OPT OUT of the Hatred of this world and simply LOVE and actually Be of God.
Saint Catherine of Siena in “The Dialogue” writes eloquently of love of neighbor from God’s perspective.
For you see that everywhere, on every level of society, all are giving birth to sin on their neighbors’ heads. For there is no sin that does not touch others, whether secretly by refusing the what is due them or openly by giving birth to the vices. [..]
It is indeed true, then, that every sin committed against me is done by means of your neighbors. [..]
Every sin is done by means of your neighbors, because it deprives them of your loving charity (love), and it is charity (love) that gives life to all virtue. So that selfish love which deprives your neighbors of your charity (love) and affection is the principle and foundation of all evil.
Every scandal, hatred, cruelty, and everything unbecoming springs from this root of selfish love. It has poisoned the whole world and sickened the mystic body of holy Church and the universal body of Christianity. For all virtues are built on charity (love) for your neighbors. So I have told you, and such is the truth: Charity (love) gives life to all the virtues, nor can any virtue exist without charity (love). In other words, virtues is attained only through love of me. [..]
Virtue, once conceived, must come to birth. Therefore, as soon as the soul has conceived through loving affection, she gives birth for her neighbors’ sake. And just as she loves me in truth, so also she serves her neighbors in truth. Nor could she do otherwise, for love of me and love of neighbor are one and the same thing: Since love of neighbor has its source in me, the more the soul loves me, the more she loves her neighbors. [..]
Her loving charity benefits herself first of all [..] when she conceives that virtue from which she draws the life of grace. Blessed with this unitive love she reaches out in loving charity to the whole world’s need for salvation. But beyond a general love for all people she sets her eye on the specific needs of her neighbors and comes to the aid of those nearest her according to the graces I have given her for ministry: Some she teaches by word, giving sincere and impartial counsel: others she teaches by her example – as everyone ought to – edifying her neighbors by her good, holy, honorable life.
These are the virtues, with innumerable others, that are brought to birth in love of neighbor. But why have I established such differences? Why do I give this person one virtue and that person another, rather than giving them all to one person? It is true that all the virtues are bound together, and it is impossible to have one without having them all. But I give them in different ways so that one virtue might be, as it were, the source of all the others. So to one person I give charity as the primary virtue, to another justice, to another humility, to another ra lively faith or prudence or temperance or patience, and to still another courage.
These and many other virtues I give differently to different souls, and the soul is most at ease with that virtue which has been made primary for her. But through her love of that virtue she attracts all the other virtues to herself, since they are all bound together in loving charity.
The same is true of many of my gifts and graces, virtue and other spiritual gifts, and those things necessary for the body and human life. I have distributed them all in such a way that no one has all of them. Thus have I given you reason – necessity, in fact – to practice mutual charity (love). For I could well have supplied each of you with all your needs, both spiritual and material. But I want to make you dependent on one another so that each of you would be my minister, dispensing the graces and gifts you have received from me. So whether you will it or not, you cannot escape the exercise of charity! Yet, unless you do it for love of me, it is worth nothing to you in the realm of grace.
So you see, I have made you my ministers, setting you in different positions and in different ranks to exercise the virtue of charity. For there are many rooms in my house. All I want is love. In loving me you will realize love for your neighbors, and if you love your neighbors you have kept the law. If you are bound by this love you will do everything you can to be of service wherever you are.
– St Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, 7
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
Also, Romans 12…
Readings for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Psalms 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51