Thursday, March 23, 2017

THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT


Homily for March 24th, 2017: Mark 12:28-34.

          The man who asks Jesus, “Which is the first of all the commandments,” is called a scribe. He is himself a teacher of the law. He is giving Jesus an orthodoxy test. By answering with a verse from the Old Testament book Deuteronomy about total love of God, Jesus passes the test.

          People today are still asking the scribe’s question. What is most important in our faith? Is being baptized most important? Or going to Mass, especially on Sunday? Or is being kind to our neighbor most important? Or trying to serve the poor and struggling for a more just society? There are strong arguments for all of these things. Jesus’ answer remains true, however. The practice of our faith begins with total love of God. That is the indispensable foundation of everything else.

          Devout Catholics today recite three times daily the Angelus prayer: morning, noon, and evening. In Jesus’ day devout Jews recited three times daily the verse from Deuteronomy about loving God totally which Jesus cites in his answer to the scribe.

          Jesus then goes on to cite a second Old Testament verse, this one from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The scribe praises Jesus’ double answer, saying that loving God and neighbor is “worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” We find the same thing said in many of the Old Testament prophets. The equivalent statement today would be this: loving God and neighbor is more important than all novenas, litanies, pilgrimages, and prayers to the saints.   

          As the conversation concludes, Jesus tells his questioner: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” “Not far” he says, because of the new commandment which Jesus will give his disciples before his crucifixion. “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12-23). Perhaps someone is asking: How can I do that? Jesus was divine. I’m only human. The answer to that question is simple. On our own we cannot love as Jesus loved. Aided, however, with the Holy Spirit, we can love as Jesus loves us. So we pray in this Mass: Come Holy Spirit, kindle in us the fire of your love!