Sunday, Nov. 4, is the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12: 28-34.
Up until this point in Mark’s Gospel, the disingenuous Pharisees, resentful and wishing to retain their power, have been firing questions at Jesus, trying relentlessly to trap him.
In today’s Gospel, there is a twist. A scribe poses a genuine question: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” and is pleased with Jesus’ answer: “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
These are the same words we hear in the first reading; these are words Moses, coming to the end of his life, passionately entreats the Israelites to follow as he prepares them to enter the Promised Land.
For 40 years, the Lord, who had brought Israel out of Egypt, has worked to “get Egypt out of” Israel. It has been a long and difficult journey as their hearts are purged of the pagan gods and false religion, yet they have learned to trust God and are eager to obey his laws: “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do!” (Exodus 19:8). Indeed, God’s covenant with them is conditional in the sense that he will bless them if they worship no other gods and follow his commandments. And so Moses enjoins many laws upon them in order to keep them set apart for God’s purposes. But each of them, every ritual and rigorous rule, is ordered to the one above: You shall love the Lord your God.
And Jesus adds, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The sincere scribe has a heart such as the Law commands, and he rejoices in Jesus’ answer. This, he says, is “worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus is impressed: This man gets it. “You are not far from the kingdom of heaven,” he assures him, and thus shames and silences the critics.
In fact, the scribe at that moment is standing before the kingdom of heaven. He is speaking to the Son of God, who has come to establish the eternal kingdom with the ultimate, final sacrifice: the cross.
Jesus will elevate both commandments to new heights by obeying them to the death, laying down his holy and innocent life for love of God and neighbor.
Ritual sacrifice will end with the cross. This perfect sacrifice will remain forever, and every Mass will make it present to us again. The second reading reminds us: “It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.”
How are our hearts today?
Are we on the mountain with Moses, looking out over the Promised Land, eager to obey all that God commands out of love for the God who has saved us? Or do we have our eyes down, busy with the rituals and routines of our lives, losing sight of the reason we should do all that we do and ignoring the very hearts of those we seek to serve? It’s so easy to lose love in the busyness of daily life.
If so, let us raise our eyes at our next Mass and see at the elevation of the Eucharist the culmination and perfection of every rule and law: love.
and contributes regularly to WomenofGrace.com,
coordinates adult faith formation at her parish in Phoenix,
where she lives with her husband and their six children.