Thirty-first Sunday Ord, B
Dt 6:2-6; Ps 18:2-4, 47, 51; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28b-34
(Scriptures included after homily)
There is an ancient decision-making game that cycles in popularity and form. It’s called Rock-Paper-Scissors. It’s kind of like flipping a coin or drawing straws, but it’s a little deeper, because it requires some thought.
It’s play involves two people facing each other, who would each, simultaneously, throw out a hand in the shape of a Rock, a piece of Paper, or a pair of Scissors. The winner is determined according to the “power” of the symbols.
The Rock would beat the Scissors – by breaking them. The Scissors would beat the Paper – by cutting it. And the Paper would beat the Rock – by wrapping or covering it.
You see, each symbol is more powerful than one of the others, but none are more powerful than ALL the others.
It’s a beautiful analogy for today’s Scriptures, where one of the scribes confronts Jesus with the question: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Now, besides the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue of Moses, there were hundreds of other commandments or Laws in the Jewish Faith. And the scribe wasn’t looking for ‘The One’ – on the top of the list. He was looking for the most important or most powerful Law. . . The one that trumps, or beats out all the others.
Now, keep in mind, that the scribes and Pharisees were constantly bombarding Jesus with questions like this to try to trap Him, or accuse him of breaking those laws. And Jesus would often respond back with a question of His own.
~ But this time, something was different! ~
You see, ALL the Jews were well aware of that “most important Commandment.” It came from Moses some 1250 years earlier. And not only were they encouraged to take the Words of that Commandment to heart, but Moses instructed – that they DRILL them into their children, that they Speak of them at home and abroad, when they were busy or at rest. So important were those Words, that they were to Bind them to their wrists and foreheads, and Write them on their doorposts and their gates.
Those Words came to be known as the Jewish Shema:
“Hear O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your Heart,
with all your Soul, with all your Mind, and with all your Strength.“
So, Jesus entertained the scribe’s rhetorical question.
And then He added – a Clarification.
He said, not only are we called to Love God, but that Love must be extended to our Neighbor as well.
You see, there is NO game with JUST a Rock. There must also be Paper.
Jesus sensed that there was something different about THIS scribe, compared to all the others. Because, not only was the scribe’s response to Jesus – in AGREEMENT with him, but the scribe also elevated Jesus, by now addressing Him – as “Teacher.”
And yet, the interaction was still not over. For the best was yet to come.
You see, it was not because of the scribe’s agreement, nor because of his respect, that Jesus said that ‘he was not far from the Kingdom of God’. It was because the scribe took Jesus’ Clarification – of Loving God AND neighbor, one step further. This was the Crux, the Pinnacle, of the entire conversation.
What the scribe declared, was that Loving God and neighbor “were worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” What he was saying was that LOVE trumps Ritual. This was the critical and third symbol of our Rock-Paper and Scissors analogy.
This was the symbol that was SO misplaced, so misunderstood, by the Jewish religious leaders.
For, you see, what they did, was to place the “burnt offerings and sacrifices,” the Law and the Ritual, ABOVE the people. There would be no healing on the Sabbath, because the Law was more important than the people. The adulterer could be stoned to death because the Law was more important than Life itself. And it was OK to ostracize and alienate the leper and the poor, because those conditions were the result of sin, and sin broke the Law, and the Law was more important than Compassion.
You see, the scribe understood the proper order. Love was not confined – to be for God alone, but it must also be shared with one another. And the Law and the Ritual didn’t trump the Neighbor – for the sake of God, but instead, they were the overflow, the outpouring of the Love of God and the Love of neighbor – in meaningful and relevant Worship.
God, Neighbor and Worship…
Just like Rock, Paper and Scissors, each may be more powerful than another, but none is more powerful than ALL. And none can stand alone.
With all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, we too are called to LOVE God: Father, Son and Spirit, to LOVE one another with the Compassion of Jesus, and to Worship with meaning and understanding. Each in it’s proper place.
God, Neighbor and Worship, these are the Rock (Jesus), Paper (Community) and Scissors (Mass/Eucharist) of our Faith. And with all of them together, we too, like the scribe, will BE –‘Not far from the Kingdom of God.’
Scripture Readings for the Mass of 11-04-12
31st Sunday Ordinary Time B
First Reading: Dt 6:2-6
Moses spoke to the people, saying: “Fear the LORD, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life. Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
R. I love you, Lord, my strength.
I love you, O LORD, my strength,
O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.
My God, my rock of refuge,
my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!
Praised be the LORD, I exclaim,
and I am safe from my enemies.
The LORD lives! And blessed be my rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed.
Second Reading: Heb 7:23-28
Brothers and sisters: The Levitical priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, but Jesus, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.
It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.
Gospel: Mk 12:28b-34
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.