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God's Word on Sunday: All or nothing in our commitment to God

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  • October 24, 2021

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

The majority of the most beautiful and profound teachings in our world are brief, concise, and simple — but seldom easy.

Humans love to build elaborate theological and philosophical systems with them, but this is usually an attempt to flee the uncompromising demands of the teaching. And then there is the human desire to control things. There is no better way to accomplish this than by burying the divine commands under mountains of verbiage.

The words of the Shema (Hear, O Israel) constantly reminded Israelites of the most essential element of their faith — loving God. But not the tepid way of “loving God” that is prevalent in modern forms of religiosity. They were urged to love God with all their heart, soul and might. Ninety or even 98 per cent would not be enough — all means all. God had to be a consuming passion and as important as the breath of life itself.

In biblical terms, love is not simply equated with emotions and feelings. In many respects, love was a synonym for loyalty. This is clear in the context of the entire passage from Isaiah: Loving God means keeping the divine commandments and doing God’s will.

The Shema also insists that the God of Israel is the only God — there are no other contenders in one’s heart. If one loves God with all one’s heart, mind and strength, there is only the desire to please God in all things. There is no need of elaborate rules and regulations. In most cases, one will intuitively know what to do, for their mind and heart will already be in harmony with God.

It is soon apparent when the love of God has become diluted or corrupted, either in the life of an individual or a community. When God is no longer our first love, our centre is gone and it is easy to spin out of control. Other gods and other values creep into our heart and lead us far from God and often into rather dark territory. We need to repeat the Shema to ourselves each day, with fervour and conviction.

God also shows love by being loyal to us. Jesus did not assume the high priesthood or status as Saviour for a limited tenure but for eternity. He is perfect and undefiled in every way and always stands ready to stretch out His hand to all who are suffering in any way.

We are not used to that sort of commitment and dependability from mortals, so we need to get used to the idea of one who always stands beside us through thick and thin. We are never alone; we are never abandoned.

The scribe saw how well Jesus handled all the religious questions that were thrown at Him. He wanted to know which of the commandments was the first of all for he wanted to do things right. Jesus did not reveal something new and unique but quoted from the heart of the Israelite tradition — the Shema.

Love of God was the prime commandment. But He added something from the Book of Leviticus — you shall love your neighbour as yourself. In effect, He made two commandments into one, for they were inextricably connected.

We cannot claim to love God if we do not love people. On the other hand, those who consistently love and serve others are loving God in their own way even if they may not be conventionally religious.

The scribe was ecstatic; he agreed completely that loving God and one’s neighbour were far more important than external religiosity. Jesus recognized that this was one scribe who definitely “got it,” and He responded by observing that the scribe was not far from the kingdom of God.

By “not far” He certainly did not mean that the kingdom was around the corner or up the street, for it is not a place, a thing or something that we build. The kingdom is a state of consciousness and spiritual awareness in which one is in harmony with the divine heart and mind.

Those who have crossed this threshold into God’s kingdom are very different sorts of people. Some might be recognized formally as saints, but most often they are individuals who quietly and even anonymously go about their tasks of helping, loving, encouraging and blessing others.

The kingdom awaits us whenever we begin the journey away from worldly ways and thinking.

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