The Golden Calf by James Tissot Wikimedia Commons

God's Word on Sunday: Faith meant to guide all parts of life

  • November 3, 2018

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 4 (Year B) Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” 

This was Israel’s creed — the shema — and was the guiding principle for the nation and its people. It was written in the seventh century BC as a response to the corruption of the religious life of the nation and the upsurge of economic inequality and injustice. 

The special target of Deuteronomy was the prevalence of idolatry in the land and the adoption of foreign cults. Looking back on Israel’s history, the author was certain that the nation had flourished and been at peace whenever they had been completely faithful to God. Whenever they had strayed, however, disaster soon followed. 

If an individual, a community or a nation desires prosperity, peace and blessings, then fidelity to God’s ways is essential. There is no short-cut or quick fix and mere lip service is not an option. 

This helps us to understand the meaning of love in the ancient world, especially in Israel. Love did not mean emotion or sentimentality. One important aspect of biblical love was absolute loyalty and fidelity through thick and thin. This was the type of love God showed Israel and God expected the same love in return. 

Love not only meant the exclusion of all other gods from the life of the nation — it also meant that the nation had to adhere to divine values and principles. In addition to ritual and purity laws, the nation was expected to live according to the requirements of justice, generosity, honesty and compassion. 

God had to be their highest ideal and God’s value system had to be their own. We can be judged by what we hold dear and by what is important to us. The shema is clear: For the believer, this must always be God.

In a time of catastrophic failures in religious leadership, the words of the Letter to the Hebrews are reassuring and encouraging. Not only is Jesus the eternal high priest, He is sinless and perfect. His presence is eternal, and His mission is to save us and intercede on our behalf. 

He is not swayed by partiality, selfishness or fear, and He cannot be manipulated or deceived. We can be assured that we will always be treated justly and mercifully. Amid the confusion and disillusionment of our time, Jesus is the bright light that will lead us home.  

The scribe in the Gospel story was a seeker. He heard people arguing over the commandments, but he knew where to go. He asked Jesus which of the commandments was first. Jesus quoted the shema from Deuteronomy, although He added “with all your mind” to the list. 

Although the scribe had only asked for the first commandment, Jesus gave him the second, too. This was to explain and amplify what love of God meant in practical terms. He again quoted the Jewish tradition — Leviticus 18 — that commands the Israelites to love their neighbour as themselves. 

Jesus said nothing new in His response and we would be mistaken to play off the New Testament against the Old Testament to the latter’s disadvantage. As a further caution not to make over-generalizations about groups of people in the Bible, the scribe showed that he “got it.” He understood that this commandment was the essence of the law and true worship, and far superseded any ritual or liturgical concern. 

The scribe’s spiritual understanding was commendable and Jesus gave him the supreme affirmation: You are not far from the kingdom of God. The people of Israel were commanded to recite the shema to their children and to keep it always in their minds. They were to put it over the doorposts of their houses and affix it to their foreheads. 

In other words, it applied to every activity and to every moment of their existence. It was to become as important and familiar to them as breathing. In a similar way, we can make the great commandment of the Gospel story our own guiding principle and keep it always in our mind and heart.

Our faith is not a religion confined to certain areas of our lives. 

It is a way of life in which we walk with God.  

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