Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Proper 26 B – Sunday, November 4, 2012
|George Cattermole (1800-1868), The Scribe|
In earlier pages of this gospel, Jesus and his opponents have been exchanging volleys of challenge and riposte, debating in the Temple at Jerusalem. The challengers have been Pharisees and Herodians, Sadducees and scribes.
In response to the challenges, Jesus has exposed the deceitfulness of his adversaries. They have been publicly humiliated, losing honor to the benefit of Jesus.
Jesus has demonstrated authentic authority. In the process, he has accumulated so much honor that soon, no one will dare challenge him verbally any more.
In further pages of this gospel, Jesus, using this authority and honor, will move to the verbal offensive. His enemies will eventually resort to institutional and physical violence to silence him.
But just for now, there is a truce. There is this episode of mutual appreciation between Jesus and a holder of religious privilege, a scribe.
In answering the Scribe's question about “Which commandment is the first of all,” Jesus deftly uses his people's tradition. And he makes that tradition take a leap by combining two commandments in a way that very much make them one. In our Christian tradition, we call it the Great Commandment.
Although this passage appears in all 3 synoptic gospels, Mark is the only one who has Jesus quote the two verses of Deuteronomy (6:4&5) that start the Shema, one of Judaism's most important prayers.
“SHEMA, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Shema means “Hear” in Hebrew. To a Benedictine it resonates with the “Listen” that begins the Rule of Saint Benedict. It says “Prick up your ears. Pay attention.”
Today, we will walk our way through this Great Commandment step by step. First, “the Lord is one.”
We may think that that introduction is no longer needed in our days of dominant monotheism, but I claim we need it just as much as Jesus' listeners who lived surrounded by dominant polytheism.
I put it to you that even we, in this room, still adore more than one God.
Do we not put most of our time and energy into participating in the cults of money, control, appearance and seduction?
Do we not believe more readily in the precepts of science and economics than in the deepest aspirations and insights of our souls?
There are many deities around, even today.
Also, I put it to you that we still believe that our own religion, if not our own church, is the only valid one. Yet the Lord is One. How could this One God wish us to be divided and dividisive? Instead, shouldn't we be mutually accepting and appreciative of one another's perspectives?
All of humanity is still struggling mightily to love but One God and to believe in the radical oneness of all.
*****Next in the Great Commandment comes, “You shall love the Lord your God.”
This not an admonishment to right belief or straight religious practice. It is a prescription to act. And to act in the most complete fashion possible to humans; “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Does this prescription leave anything out to not participate in the love of God? It is the whole human being and the whole human existence that is bidden to the love of God.
Nothing that you are, and nothing that you do, or don't do, are irrelevant to your love of God.
This is a tall agenda. But then this is the tallest love we can ever aspire to.
*****And then Jesus adds another commandment to the first and he conjoins the two. This second commandment hails from Leviticus (19:18b).
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This commandment assumes you love yourself enough to care for your essential safety and needs.
The original context of this commandment, in the book of Leviticus, would have led to a restrictive interpretation of who our neighbor is. It would have meant a kinsman or a fellow member of one's tribe.
But the full context of Jesus' predication lets us know that no one remains out of his description of our neighbor.
The canonical gospels leave us no place for exclusion.
The Evangelist John recounts what we call the New Commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This takes care by the way of those who'd argue they don't love themselves to start with.
The Evangelist Luke gives us the parable of the Good Samaritan right after his own account of the Great Commandment.
And for good measure, in Matthew, Jesus extends love of the neighbor to include our enemies.
More radical inclusion you will not find.
Finally, the scribe who discourses with Jesus concurs with him. The scribe even goes on to add that Jesus' combined commandment is more important than all Temple sacrifices. That is a portentous statement coming from someone who sees the Temple as his workplace, his avocation and the purpose of his life.
While our liturgies are great offerings to God and neighbor; while our liturgies are offered at personal cost of effort and time; they do not exonerate us from loving, not even monks.Jesus enjoins us to the daily work of loving the One, and loving every one, and loving oneself, with no restriction or exception.
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God” compliments Jesus. “Not far” yet not fully inside that Kingdom. “Close, but no cigar!”
So how long does the scribe have to journey in order to cross the threshold and to step into the Kingdom?
As the proverb goes: “The longest journey a human must take is the distance from his head to his heart.” And this proverb assumes the heart is the right engine to move us into action.
Intellectual assent and emotional assent to Jesus' prescription do help. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your soul” starts the commandment.
But then it adds “and with all your strength.” We are talking about action here.
Jesus asks for our love of God and neighbor as an action, not simply as a wish or even a longing.
This love we are invited to is an active verb not a conceptual noun.
So I challenge myself, and you, to examine our heart and mind and soul and strength.
Where am I fully engaged in loving God and neighbor?
And where do I need to stretch?
Whom and how do I not love enough?
Where do I judge, rather than love?
Where is my prejudice hiding (or maybe friends can tell me it's in full sight)?
What would help me to remove my own impediments to love?
What do I learn in listening to my answering these questions?
Don't ask me for the answers, I'm still looking. But keep looking, and grow in loving.
You are not far from the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is close at hand.
Let love take the journey from your head to your heart and from your heart to your hands.
If necessary, let your actions start building the Kingdom, while heart and mind catch up with them. Whichever way brings you to loving God and loving neighbor as yourself, explore it.
Bon voyage! Feel free to send this neighbor a postcard.