Thursday, 28 October 2021 11:42

The Great Commandment

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31OTBWeb400One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’’ The scribe said to him, “Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your
neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.” Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to question him any more. (Mark 12:28-34)


The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy and the Gospel today are linked by the words of the Shema – the creed which observant Jews pray every morning and evening. These words come from the Book of Deuteronomy: Listen, Israel: The Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. The title, Shema, comes from the Hebrew word for ‘listen’, the very first word of the prayer.

In a way, Shema is a call to conversion: to listen deeply with the heart and to respond to God’s grace and mercy with love, faithfulness and obedience. When a scribe asks Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”, Jesus replies by quoting the Shema and then adds a quotation from the Book of Leviticus (19:18), “You must love your neighbour as yourself ”. According to Jesus, there is no commandment greater than these.

The scribe is impressed by Jesus’ reply. His words to Jesus show he has grasped what Jesus means. In repeating what Jesus has just said in his own words, the scribe also adds, “this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice”. Now it is Jesus who is impressed with the scribe’s depth of understanding: that love is the very heart of obedience to God and more important even than ritual worship. The scribe’s correct understanding of the Old Testament Law means he is very close to the Kingdom of God.

It also means that true faith, as Jesus teaches it, is about being in loving relationship with God and other human beings. Religious rituals are meant to be ways of reflecting on, savouring, remembering, celebrating and expressing that love. Sometimes they just end up as ‘empty’ rituals, when love has been replaced by fear, when we are trying to bargain with God, or when we are just ‘going through the motions’.

The Kingdom of God is not some far off place, but the moments when God’s life breaks into the human story. Those moments bring love, wisdom, grace, compassion, generosity, forgiveness and peace. Those practiced in the things of God recognise God’s presence most of all in loving relationships. If our rituals grow out of and express our sincere love for God and neighbour then they have value. We are always at risk of putting ritual above the practise of love, of thinking that we are at rights with God just by attending a liturgy, by ‘paying God off’, in a sense.

The words of Jesus remind us of the importance of the other part of our religious lives – the liturgy of everyday life in which we make present and visible the love, mercy and compassion of God.

Read our Celebrating At Home prayers & reflections for this Sunday.

pdf Celebrating At Home 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time [PDF] (8.32 MB)
default Celebrating At Home 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time [ePub] (4.71 MB)

 

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