Homily for June 8th, 2017: Mark 12: 28-34.
Which commandment comes first? Jesus is asked in today’s gospel. It was a standard question amongst rabbis in Jesus’ day. Jesus answers by citing two well known Old Testament texts, from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19, about loving God and others. The question is still being asked today, when people want to know is it more important to worship God, or to serve the poor? The shortest answer is: both are important.
If people want to know which is primary, then the answer is, worship. But if our worship has no consequences in daily life, however, it is hypocrisy which cries to heaven for vengeance. On the other hand, service of others which is not performed for love of God, but for the uplifting feeling of serving a noble cause, or some other human ideology, is not genuine service. Those “served” in this way experience not the warmth of compassion, but the cold impersonalism of bureaucracy, which undermines so many of the best intentioned efforts of the welfare state to help the poor and disadvantaged.
We followers of Jesus Christ are called to live at the intersection of the vertical and the horizontal. That is where Jesus lived. It is also where he died. The cross, which is itself the literal intersection of the vertical and the horizontal, tore Jesus apart and killed him. For us too the attempt to live where the vertical and horizontal intersect will mean pain, rending asunder, and ultimately death. But this is precisely that dying-in-order-to-live of which Jesus himself speaks often in the gospels. For behind the cross Christians have always seen, and we must always see, the open portals of the empty tomb – the sign and proof that death is not the end. Death was not the end for Jesus. It will not be the end for us; it will be rather the gateway to new life, unbelievably more wonderful than this one. It is Jesus’ resurrection which enables us to live as people of hope – and above all as people of joy.