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THIRTY FIRST SUNDAY ORD TIME B
BOARBANK HALL (2018)
The question raised in today’s Gospel of Mark (differently at Mt 22:34-40 and Lk 10:25-28) about the most important of all the commandments may seem very curious to us brought up, as we are, to think in different categories from those of biblical times. Probably the equivalent for us would be: what is the most important thing in the whole world for us? What would cost us the most if we had to give it up? The answer surely for most of us would have to do with unselfish loving personal relationships. And this is not unbiblical.
Back to the Bible
The New Testament gives much space to love. In today’s Gospel the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer was about the basic command in the Old Testament: Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Later interpretations on how the command could be actualised brought all the qualifications including the experience of being trampled upon, exiled, abused, invaded and internally divided. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day limited love unbearably. What was life all about? The answer for Christians was and is that it is all about accepting Jesus, and Jesus is the perfect expression of the love of God. And God is love (1 Jn 4:8).
We recall the setting in the Palestine of his day. The people were mainly repressed. The rich were very rich and the vast majority of people eked out a precarious existence. The Roman army was everywhere. The taxes were very heavy. There was no social benefit system. The expectation of life was short. Put in this context: which is the Greatest Commandment? might seem an irrelevance if not an impertinence. What is also fascinating in this technical exchange with the lawyer, is the seemingly minimal discussion about the commandments. And there is no discussion at all about the nature of love. Its nature and content seems to be presumed. In the OT it comes up most frequently in the Book of Deuteronomy which is called The Second Law, from which comes our first reading at today’s Mass (Dt 6:2-6). Here there is no conflict between law and love. In the NT it is the way that some people interpret that Law that causes Jesus to take issue on with them. He lived out his personal relationships as he stated them in The Sermon on the Mount (Mt 7:12): love your neighbour as yourself. His commandment to love in St. John’s Gospel he called new: Love one another as I have loved you (Jn 13:34). There no limits here. And in our reading today from St. Mark there is shown the agreement between Jesus and the lawyer. Jews and Gentiles honour the same God with the same commitment. There should be no major disagreements on this.
St. Paul (1 Cor 13)
This same approach is followed by St. Paul also. He states that of all the basic human dispositions love alone lasts; everything else will pass away. He stated this as foundational in his discussion about the meaning of community with his fractious Corinthians. They prided themselves on their intelligence, and on their achievements and ambitions. Paul dismisses all of this with a lapidary phrase: ‘without love I am nothing’ (13:1-2). He is not engaging in philosophical definitions. He illustrates his meaning with examples. “Love is patient and kind ….it is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant and rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (13:4-6). This remarkable list is aimed at every conscience.
Back to Jesus
The man who asked the question was happy with the answer, and expressed agreement with Jesus, citing Dt 6:5 and Lev 19:8. ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’ was the happy ending to the exchange. Jesus is himself the Kingdom of God: “In Christ’s word, in his works and in his presence this kingdom reveals itself to humanity…. Those who hear the word with faith and become part of the little flock of Christ (Lk 12:32) have received the kingdom itself” (Vatican II Dogmatic Decree on The Church, No. 5). Jesus in today’s reading did not ask any more commitment from the scribe who had posed the question. It is fascinating too to hear the scribe’s remark that love is more important than any holocaust and sacrifice. By Mark’s day the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and worship for Christians and Jews was no longer public in the way it had been. But there was still a danger of defining love too narrowly. There is an implied critique of this in the parable of The Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). The image of the alien Samaritan expresses the mind and heart of Christ Jesus; his innate humanity eliminated all considerations of ethnicity and legal niceties, and cultic practices. He was moved with compassion- that great identifier of the truly human heart (Lk 10:33). Any law that sets people off from others in need must be a bad law. Love your neighbour as yourself derives from the love of God in biblical thought, for God made humanity in his own image and likeness (Gn 1:26). And clearly love is not just a Christian prerogative. But it certainly is a total Christian commitment. The values of the kingdom of God are lived out in the Church, and occasion regret when they are not.
The Church exists to serve the Kingdom of God; it is not itself the kingdom. We pray Thy Kingdom Come. There are many people who belong to God who do not belong to the Church (St. Augustine). Such belong to God because they care for others and help their neighbours with a self-giving love. We meet them every day. “For I greet him the days I meet him and bless when I understand” (G.M.Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland, stanza 5). Mark’s Gospel was proclaiming this, and encouraging the missionary endeavours of the Church to be open to everyone everywhere. Surely we believe that such is still true, and not least in the local mission of Boarbank Hall. The Beatitudes are our guide.
A Happy Sunday to you all. Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor