Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34
The relationship between God and man is a relationship of love. God is love and because he is love he created the universe and made man master and master piece of this creation. God is present in every bit of creation and presents himself to human person as an extension of himself. God loves each person individually and calls us to let ourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, persons set apart for him. He wants us to reflect our response to him through our holiness and offering of self to him. He is a personal God and we experience his touch in the presence of Jesus. Christian love requires of us to root out of our hearts and minds these distorted perceptions and to convert our hearts and minds to a true and compassionate love of God and of others. In the first reading we have the presentation of the love of God in the form of Ten Commandments. The chosen people were invited to love God with their whole heart. They in turn will receive plentiful blessings from God. In the second reading we are told how Christ saved us all by offering himself. As a High Priest he offered himself once and for all to God for our sake. The efficacy of his priesthood really began when he rose from the dead. In the Gospel we have the summary of the Law given by Jesus to love God with the whole heart, mind and strength and to love ones neighbor as the person would love himself or herself. Jesus says that there is no commandment greater than these.
In the first reading taken from the Book of Deuteronomy we hear of Moses who having received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, set about teaching them to the Israelites, God’s chosen people. He promised them temporal rewards if thy remained loyal to their God who was one and only God and would prove their loyalty by observing his commandments. He told them that these rules, the Decalogue, are essential to be in communion with God. To secure a perfect communion with God, Moses began his discourse by telling the people to fear the Lord God. Therefore fear, that involves discipline, is part of the sanctifying process of the soul. When the believer has reached a higher level of holiness, the fear fades away, and is being replaced with true love in God. Then, Moses ordered the people to remember in their hearts that God is one and that they must love God with all their hearts, with all their souls, and with all their might. This is a total consecration to God, living for God, living with God, and living through God. He told the people to have reverence and respect for God. This reverence was to be practices in every way and at all time. Their temporal blessings consisted of long life, large family and the Promised Land as their permanent abode. It was important for them to love God.
In the second reading the author to the Hebrews continues to show the superiority of Jesus Christ over the other High Priests of the Old Testament. They were many High Priests in the Old Covenant and Jesus is one. They interceded daily for their own sins and the sins of their people. He interceded once for all for his people and he had no personal sins to atone for. On God’s command it was the Mosaic Law that appointed the Old Testament High Priests. It was God’s word and his promise that made Christ our High Priest. The High Priests of the Old Testament as human persons were weak, sinful and mortal. On the other hand Jesus our High Priest is sinless, holy, divine son of God. Because they were mortal, the term of office as High Priest was limited and so of necessity there were many of them. Christ’s Priesthood did not end in death. In fact its efficacy really began when he rose from the dead. He is now in the inner sanctuary interceding for each one of us. He is permanently at the throne of God, ready to plead for all who want to approach God. There is no other approach except through him for he is our sole intermediary. In his human nature Christ is the perfect man. He kept the least of God’s commands and obeyed him. His one sacrifice on the cross was of infinite value because of his divine nature. Hence it was sufficient for him to offer this sacrifice once, for all men and for all time.
In the Gospel passage of today tells us about one of the Scribes who came up and asked Jesus a question that the people asked the Rabbis often: which is the greatest of all commandments. It is an honest question to discover what is essential to please God and obtain eternal salvation. The question that was frequently debated was which of the Ten Commandments was the most important. There was never a common answer and the Scribe makes takes his opportunity to ask this question to Jesus. From the context it is clear that unlike other tricky questions asked by Pharisees and Scribes, this question is put by an honest Scribe who is sincerely anxious to get an honest and true answer. The Scribes were generally known to be experts in interpreting the Law and people approached them for clarifications.Unlike other occasions, there seemed to be no sense of hostility or a trap being set here. The man just wanted to know Jesus’ opinion as a rabbi and teacher.Knowing that his questioner was sincere and honest, Jesus gave him a frank answer telling him the two primary and essential commandments were to love the one true God and to love ones neighbor as one loved oneself. Here Jesus quoted the Book of Deuteronomy for the first commandment: the love of the one true God. The Jews were instructed by Moses that the Lord alone is God and that as our God is unique, so the basic human response to God must also be unique and undivided. Jesus clearly said that a person has to love God with one’s heart, soul and strength. The entire person is to love God who loves every person entirely. To this he added the second greatest commandment: a person must love his neighbor as he would love his own self, as given in the Book of Leviticus. This command was not new to the audience. What was new was that Jesus went to build an extremely intimate bond between love of neighbor and the love of God. In Christian charity, people and God are not merely side by side; they are inseparable one. This idea presented by Jesus was totally new. Another facet of newness was that Jesus gave a completely new interpretation of neighbor. In the time of Leviticus, it meant Hebrews only. For Jesus it included every member of the human race.
The Scribe, honest man that he was, accepted and approved of the answer given by Jesus. He had himself come to the same conclusion and recognizing Jesus as a sound, this sincere rabbi had come to him for confirmation of his opinion. The Scribe went on praising Jesus for indicating the oneness of the true God who had no equal or no contender for this position. The Scribe emphasized that without true love of God and neighbor, the external signs of worship offered to God would be useless. As he answered Jesus, the Scribe made a proper relation between, on the one hand, the love of God and of others, and on the other hand, burnt offerings and sacrifices, by placing love above sacrifices. But the scribe, obviously, had a tendency to want to dissociate love from sacrifice.These services are of value if they are motivated by a sincere interior love for God, which of its nature includes the love of neighbor.Therefore Jesus responded to him telling him that he was not far from the kingdom of God. For him to be truly in the Kingdom of God, and not merely near it, it would be necessary for love to realize in him the fullness of sacrifice, which Jesus perfectly accomplished on the Cross of Calvary. For love is the gift of self, the gift of self to the other, this other who are God, as well as our neighbor.
The personal lesson that is visible from today’s Gospel to every Christian is that the solid foundation of our Christian religion is love of God and neighbor. Jesus himself says that there is no other commandment greater than these. All other commandments are expansions of these two and indications of how we are to put these commandments into daily practice. The law tells us we cannot harm the life or name of another. This is because every person belongs to God. It is God who gave him life and the same God has given us the command to love and respect all persons. To interfere with a person’s life is interfering with God’s rights and disobeying his command. We also have the command to love God who is infinite and perfect. In reality God does not need our love and he is invisible in every human sense. But we can love our neighbor who is created in the image and likeness of God. While the infinite God has no needs that we can supply, he has claim on our service, on our respect and on our gratitude. It is God who gave us our existence and every gift we possess. All that we have and possess us owe to his love and generosity. Hence it is necessary for us to love him, honor his name and respect his presence. In this way we as human persons can show our love to him.
Today’s Gospel Reading teaches us that the fullness of our communion with God can be achieved through two spiritual laws. First, we must “love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with our entire mind, and with all our strength.” Then, we must “love our neighbor as ourselves.” These are the two Commandments that summarize all the other Commandments of God. Jesus tells us in the Gospel that there are no other Commandments greater than these.These Commandments are more important than any offerings or sacrifices. If one does not have love, he has nothing. If one spends his time in prayer but cannot show love towards his neighbor, he does not have true love in him, nor does God abide in him. For God is love and those who abide in love abide in God. They care about their neighbors. They reach out to them. They support them. They encourage them to persevere.If we obey the two Commandments of love, our daily communion with God is being perfected through Christ, with Christ and in Christ. If we obey the two Commandments of love, we are not far from the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is a model for us in the practice of the virtue of love. His love is ideal, divine and all embracing. During his life time he showed how to love others and showed his love towards his disciples, his followers, and even his enemies. From the cross his prayer of forgiveness to the enemies was the deepest expression of his love. In today’s world the word love is often misunderstood and misused. Love is many beautiful things and in today’s culture it can lose its full meaning. It is not only what makes the world go round; it is what makes the ride worthwhile. But love is also demanding. To love means to go beyond ourselves, truly to face another person, to rise above our own need, to stretch out to someone, to see the faces of those who desperately need our love, to risk discomfort, to give our time and energy and indeed to give ourselves to others. Love involves total giving and sacrificing oneself. There is no question of sharing only a part or to love when the person feels good. It is true that love has to do with feelings, but it has far more to do with commitment, challenge and letting go. Whole hearted loving does not stop at any time and it cannot be done with. It has to do with being there for the other. Further, without being loved it is impossible to love.
We sometimes fear that if we offer our all too much might be asked and something extra may be demanded of us. This makes us persons closed to the world of love. Love involves the risk of taking and giving. The truth is that we human beings are truly human beings when we give ourselves away in love. Love is central in all moral decisions. Real life examples go to family, work place, neighborhood, employer worker relationship, social involvement, school, church and citizenship. There are several ways available to us to improve these relationships. Because of our common humanity we should be inclined to help our fellowmen, our neighbors, but the Christian law spiritualizes this natural inclination by commanding us to help our neighbor because he is a child of God and carries the image of the divine. Our heavenly Father loves each one of us and accepts us as his own children. Hence we become members of God’s family. Today Jesus tells us that if we observe these two commandments faithfully, we are fulfilling the whole law and the prophets. We are serving God and showing our gratitude to him for all his goodness to us. The Christian who is following Christ in love is already active in the earthly kingdom of God, while moving safely to the eternal kingdom of peace, joy and happiness. As we offer this Eucharist today and receive the Lord in our heart, let us ask the grace that we may extend our love to all and that we may discover the presence of Jesus in our brothers and sisters.
It was during the Korean War in 1954. There were the American Soldiers fighting the war in Korea and it was hard. It was the cold winter and the war had moved to the forest area and the Americans became the target. There was knee deep snow and in that situation 43 American Soldiers were captured and were put in a small hut. They had no fire to warm them and did not have sufficient clothes to protect them from severe cold. Only way to warm them was huddling themselves and the body heat would keep them alive. In the group were two persons were sick with diarrhea and it was not pleasant to have them in the group. Then one soldier got up, picked one and put him outside the door and came to pick the other to place him outside. Both died instantly. No one said anything. The war was over and the forty one were rescued. Someone told of the episode and there was the psychological court martial. There was one accused and forty witnesses. They were asked the same three questions: did you see what was happening and all answered and said they did see it all. Second was they knew what would happen and all said that they knew of instant death. The final question asked was why you didn’t do anything and each answered the same way: it was none of my business. The other is not my business.
Fr Eugene Lobo S.J. Mangalore, India