31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

My Dear People, 

Today Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment. Jesus replies quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Israelite confession of faith known as the Shema (Hebrew for “hear”): Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! By the time of Jesus, this statement was understood to mean that YHWH is not only the one God of the Jews but the one and only God of the whole universe. In a world of polytheism, the Jews were the only people to have been granted this earth-shattering insight: there is but one God, who has created all things and who holds all things in existence by his goodness and power. His claim on us is therefore total, calling for a total response at every level of our being. To Love God is to have a profound reverence and affection for him, to give ourselves over to him and desire to please him above all else. Jesus is spelling out what he had said earlier about repaying to God what belongs to him (12:17). 

Jesus uses four terms that, taken together, signify not distinct faculties of parts of the human being, but different ways of referring to  he whole person. The heart (kardia) is the inner depth of a person, the wellspring from which all our decisions and actions flow (see 7:19). The soul (psyche) is our whole self as a living being, that which Jesus said we must be willing to give up for his sake and which he will give up for our sake. Jesus adds another term, mind, to emphasize that even our thoughts and reasoning must be animated by the love for God. The last phrase, with all your strength, emphasizes that love for God is not a sentiment that arises spontaneously, but a commitment that calls for every ounce of our energy. Now can such love without measure be possible? Only by our first knowing and experiencing God’s love for us. 

The second part of Jesus’ response is Lev. 19:18: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus is the first one known to have explicitly combined these two commandments. But they are the foundations underlying the first three and last seven commandments of the Decalogue respectively (Exod. 20: 2-11, 12-17). His implication is that they are inseparable: our love for God is concretized and expressed in our love for our fellow human beings (see John  4:11, 20-21). To love others “as yourself” means to make their well being as high a priority as your own (see Phil 2:3-4)—a very demanding standard. Although in its original context “neighbor” means one’s fellow Israelite, elsewhere Jesus makes clear that our love must extend to every person without limit (Matt 5:43-44; Luke 10:29-37). Since the one God of all is God of all. 

Jesus concludes:  There is no other commandment greater than these. The rest of the law merely spells out how to love God and neighbor. To fulfill this twofold commandment perfectly would be to fulfill the entire law (see Rom 13:8-10; James 2:8). 

Recognizing the wisdom of Jesus’ answer, the scribe voices his approval, adding a common biblical affirmation of the uniqueness of God (see Deut 4:39). The scribe then elaborates: to love God with one’s whole being, and love others is worth more than all burnt offering and sacrifices. 

Jesus in turn praises the scribe’s insight. But his reply is double-edged. The scribe’s understanding of what God truly desires shows that he is not far from the kingdom, the presence and reign of God that has been the object of Jesus’ whole mission (see 1:15). But he is not yet in the kingdom. Jesus has both affirmed the scribe and challenged him to go further. It is not surprising that no one dared to ask him any more questions. 

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Vincent Clemente


There are no comments yet - be the first one to comment: