Christ is the perfect mediator between God and humanity

By  Fr. Scott Lewis S.J.
  • October 30, 2006

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Nov. 5 (Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34)

People go out of their way to make religion a frightfully complicated affair. But it is simple — not easy, but uncomplicated.

The words of the Shema (Hear, O Israel) in Deuteronomy form the very essence of Israelite religion and ultimately that of Christianity. There has been a tendency to contrast the Old Testament negatively with the New Testament. In reality, both testaments are unanimous and unequivocal in what is truly important: the law of love. In a sense, all of Scripture is mere commentary on this principle. The love of God that is commanded is total and all-encompassing: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength. Nothing is to be hoarded or held back, nor is there any negotiation or manipulation or relegation of God to certain areas of one’s life. God is life itself; there are to be no rivals and no other priorities.

The author of Deuteronomy suggests that adherence to this command will result in things going well for the people of Israel. This is not some sort of reward for being good or obeying the rules. Carrying the love of God into all areas of human life creates a society of justice and peace. And focusing all of one’s energies on loving God transforms human relationships. Putting God — not religion — first in one’s life is transforming not only for the individual but for those around us.

It is revealing that the letter to the Hebrews is the only place in the New Testament that uses the word for priest in a Christian context. There is a message there: Christ is the only priest, offering Himself as the perfected mediator between God and humanity. He is someone whom all may approach, and His response is always one of mercy and compassion. The priesthood is not the property or possession of anyone. All Christians share in the one priesthood of Christ in diverse ways to the degree that they make God present in the lives of others through compassionate and loving practice.

Scribes usually do not fare well in the New Testament. In this story, however, one scribe gets it right and earns the praise and admiration of Jesus. He saw clearly that for Jesus love of God and love of neighbour was not only the essence but the fulfilment of religious faith. Being “not far from the Kingdom of God” does not imply proximity to a particular place. Rather, it is a state of mind and soul in which one views and understands the world in a divine rather than a human fashion. To the initial question Jesus replies with the Shema that we saw above, but He joins to it the commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself.

This second commandment is taken from Leviticus, a book that has earned the reputation of being concerned only with dietary laws and punishments. But it also contains much that deals with compassionate and just treatment of other people. This Great Commandment is straight from the Jewish tradition of the Old Testament. Nothing was new; the only change promoted by Jesus was a broadening of the definition of neighbour.

At first glance, this great commandment might seem trite or too easy. But if it is taken as the guiding principle of human life it has profound consequences. It is a principle of interrelationship between the individual, other people and God. No part of the equation may be omitted or downplayed. There is no room for selfishness, competition, indifference, cruelty and injustice, or exclusion. One’s religious faith becomes a way of living and being authentically human. It is a way of finding God in this world and in our everyday experience but most of all in other people.

In a time of religious struggle and confusion, we are not without tools and guidance. Meditating on the meaning of this commandment and applying it to life could perhaps lead us out of the prison of religious bigotry, competition and violence that humanity has fashioned for itself. As the great depth psychologist C.G. Jung realized, “Where love stops, power begins and terror and violence.”

Both testaments of our Scriptures have presented us with the law of love. Human survival may well depend on our willingness and ability to live by it.

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