31st Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 31 October 2021 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Deuteronomy 6: 2-6; Responsorial: Psalm 18; II: Hebrews 7: 23-28; Gospel: Mark 12: 28b-34
” You are not far from the Kingdom of God” so Jesus concludes the Gospel reading for Mass. He has replied to the scribe who asked which is the greatest of the commandments? Jesus had replied: ” 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.” This message is perilously dangerous for the faithful. We have heard these Scriptures and lessons so very many times. As a good friend expressed once after a homily…” we have heard it all before. ” And thus the peril. The familiarity makes it difficult for our heart to really listen, to hear what Jesus would be saying, today. And, if we look honestly at our churches we would have to admit the evidence of this love is often lacking.
Why is this so difficult? Why is this love so veiled, so hindered? Why is it so complicated? The command to love God has been argued and debated, often with violence for centuries as religions, denominations and groups within churches fight for THEIR understanding of what that means. Even today we see this proud rivalry exercised by those who feel their preferred liturgy or criteria for participation in worship is the only true expression of the command to love God. The same complex strife is also found in the command to love our neighbor. Like another Gospel story we ask: “Who is my neighbor?” as we seek to organize and choose who is worthy of our love and God’s love and who is not. These two simple commands have also been fettered with the comfortable rationale that IF we truly love our neighbor then we must hate the sin and love the sinner in our assumed efforts to manage and direct the holy energies of God. Indeed the command, the shared vocation to love God and our neighbor has become such a maze.
The popular Autumn outing of going to a corn maze illustrates this challenge. While many people enjoy finding their way through a maze it is also common to hear people say the sense of being lost, trapped, or even followed is frightening. We are not wandering an Autumn maze but for many, it is only honest to acknowledge that their seeking to love God and neighbor is also, at times like struggling through a maze.
Jesus, in speaking to the scribe gives us insight into the faithful obedience of this holy verb. “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” He said. The fulfillment of this vocation is a journey, a quest, a pilgrimage. Our understanding, our abilities, our heart for love is not the same as when we began or as it would be now. Love is about relationships. It is meant to grow. The blessings and struggles of life are simply a part of the journey. We have the choices to make, to grow on in love, or to grow hardened and fearful. But we must remember God designed and longs for us to grow in love.
The Word of God is clear, it is more than just an emotion to love. It is more than an understanding. To love, as created and designed by God is to allow His grace, His Presence in all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and with all our strength. Again, we simply are called to love God with ALL our being. But we must remember who we are today is not the same person we were a year ago or as a child. Nor is it the same person we will be a year from now. It is, always, about growing in love.
The same graces apply to the second command. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. If our neighbor is a part of our faith community. We are to love them. If our neighbor is of another religion, or an atheist, we are to love them. If our neighbor is homeless, gay, straight or beautiful, or ugly…we are to love them. Now some would say this is where we must love the person but not the sin. True, very true. But that means we recognize sin, or our understanding of sin is not the person. But for some, the greatest problem in following Jesus in this quest, following His commands is the judgments we exercise, yes upon others, but especially ourselves. If we are unable to love ourselves, as designed and created by God we will have intense difficulty in loving others, including God. We must grow, as some would say to be comfortable in our own skin. But how, where does that occur?
The place of healing of our relationship, with God, with others, and with ourselves is in the place, the person of Love, it is in God. St. Paul would write He has made our peace, in His cross. It is in the forgiveness, the mercy of God we experience the embrace of His love and, as St. John would write, “we love because He first loved us”.
So often in our journey of faith and life we focus upon our destination. We long to get through the maze that seems it will never end and to reach the kingdom of God. We fret and worry and at times fear that we are never going to be as loving as we should be. But let us remember, it isn’t about the destination. It is with whom we are journeying. As we sojourn with Christ we will grow in love.