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Thirty-first Sunday – Year B – Ordinary Time
Readings: Deut 6:2-6; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28b-34.
Reading 1: Deut 6:2-6:
Moses spoke to the people, saying:
“Fear the LORD, your God,
and keep, throughout the days of your lives,
all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you,
and thus have long life.
Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them,
that you may grow and prosper the more,
in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers,
to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”
Reading 2: Heb 7:23-28:
Brothers and sisters:
The levitical priests were many
because they were prevented by death from remaining in office,
but Jesus, because he remains forever,
has a priesthood that does not pass away.
Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him,
since he lives forever to make intercession for them.
It was fitting that we should have such a high priest:
holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners,
higher than the heavens.
He has no need, as did the high priests,
to offer sacrifice day after day,
first for his own sins and then for those of the people;
he did that once for all when he offered himself.
For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests,
but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law,
appoints a son,
who has een made perfect forever.
Gospel: Mk 12:28b-34:
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
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.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
‘He is One and there is no other than he.’
And ‘to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself’
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Written by: Fr. Tien M. Dinh, OP.
I. THEME: What is the most important duty to do?
People are greatly confused about this question because there are so many duties to fulfill in this life; for examples, duty to God, Church, nation, society, parents, husband or wife, children, relatives or friends. Which duty is the most important one and why is it important? There shall be many answers depending on one’s understanding of life.
Today readings give people a clear answer and the reason why they must do it. In the first reading, Moses and all Jewish leaders constantly reminded the Israelites that their most important duty is to God, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” In the second reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews gave people the reason why they must love God above all which is His immense love for them through the fact that He gave them His Only Son to save and to constantly make intercession for them. In the Gospel, when a scribe asked Jesus that what is the most important commandment, Jesus gave him two commandments: first is to love God above all; secondly is to love others as oneself.
1/ Reading I: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
1.1/ People must do all possible ways to memorize this most important commandment: Two things which people must do from this commandment:
– There is only one God: People must not worship any other gods. The commandment is simple, but not easy to do because people made so many gods for them to worship.
– People must love the Lord, their God, with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their strength. They can’t put anyone or any thing above God. If they put their nation, society, parents, husband or wife, children, relatives or friends above God, they reverse the right order and violate the first commandment.
Since people are so easy to forget and constantly tempted by the three big enemies which are the devil, the worldly allurement and their own flesh, Moses commanded the Israelites to do the following, and the traditional Jews are still keeping them until now:
(1) Must memorize it in their heart: To memorize anything, the best way is to keep repeating it until it becomes a habit or a second nature. The faithful used to pray at the fixed hours in a day to remember God; for example: morning, evening and night prayers. The monks or the religious do it by praying seven times a day, one in every three hours.
(2) Must drill it in their children’s heart: People have a tendency to forget, so they are needed to remind by responsible people. Moses commanded the Israelites, “Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” (Deut 6:7). This is the first duty of parents to their children; if they don’t fulfill this duty, they must answer before God.
(3) Must post it in places that attract people’s attention: Moses commanded, “Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”
– When the Israelites pray, they bind the two boxes which have this verse which they called Shema around their arms.
– They also wrote it on a big card and wear it on their forehead when they pray.
– They also put it on their doorpost and city gate. Since everyone in the house must come in or go out of their house many times a day, they shall remember God when they see this Shema. The city in old age used to have only one gate where all dwellers must pass through to come in or to go out. They are reminded to remember God when they see the Shema.
1.2/ The rewards for those who keep this commandment: Since the Israelites don’t have a clear concept of the life after this world, they think all who observe God’s law shall be rewarded with the followings in this life: happiness, a long life, prosperity and many children. Moses listed out two rewards which God shall bestow on people in this passage.
(1) To live a long life: “So that you, your son and your grandson may fear the Lord, your God, and keep all His statutes and commandments throughout the days of your lives which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life.”
(2) To be prosperous: “Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the Lord, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.”
2/ Reading II: “He is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews gives people one of the reasons why they should love God above all, that is, God gave them His only Son to die for their sins and to constantly make intercession for them before God. To help the readers to understand, he compared the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament with Christ’s priesthood of the New Testament.
2.1/ Christ’s priesthood lasts for ever.
(1) The Levitical priesthood often changed because they are human beings and prone to death, “Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office.”
(2) Christ’s priesthood shall not pass away, “but Christ, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”
2.2/ Christ’s priesthood is much more effective.
(1) Christ’s offering is once and for all.
– The Levitical priesthood: All priests are sinners, so they must “offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people.”
– Christ’s priesthood: “It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens… He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.”
(2) Christ’s priesthood is made by an oath:
– The Levitical priesthood is established by the law, all those who belong to the Levi’s tribe; and the High Priest is chosen according to the law: “For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests.”
– Christ’s priesthood: “But the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.” The author used Psalm 110:4 to back up his argument which stated, “The Lord has sworn and will not waver: “Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever.””
3/ Gospel: “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
2.1/ The first commandment: There are more than 600 of laws in the Old Testament. This can cause confusion even to the experts of the law as the scribes and Pharisees. This is the reason why a scribe who heard of Jesus’ disputation with others, came forward and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
A. Jesus’ answer: He recalled the Shema, the first commanment is: “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.”
(1) The Lord our God is Lord alone: Judaism and Catholicism are monotheism; they don’t accept polytheism. Some of the Jews criticized that Catholicism isn’t monotheism because they worship three gods. Catholic people worship the only one God, but in three personalites of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as already revealed in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus.
(2) Human duty to God: The only one difference with the first reading is “with all your mind.” What is meant to love God:
(1) With all your heart (kardía): The Semitic tradition considers heart is the seat of love, the special kind of feeling and all passions. The one who loves God with all his heart must not put his passion for anything before God.
(2) With all your soul (psychè): St. Thomas said, “The soul is the primary principle of our nourishment, sensation, and local movement; and likewise of our understanding.” The one who loves God with all his soul must put God as the center of all his activities whether eating, drinking, walking or understanding.
(3) With all your mind (dianoía): People used to think the mind is the seat of all intellectual activities. The mind should be included as one of the soul’s activities. The one who loves God must be busied himself with God’s teaching.
(4) With all your strength (ischús): This word used to be translated as ability, force, strength, might. Strength is needed to work, especially in difficult time. The one who loves God must spend all of his strength to do God’s works. He must be vibrant and happy, not sad or pessimistic.
B. The scribe’s repeat:
(1) He agreed with Jesus about the monotheism and the Israelites’ God: “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’”
(2) He left out “with all your mind” and used understanding (súnesis) for soul: “And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength.” Understanding is one of the soul’s activities, but not all.
2.2/ The second commandment:
A. Jesus’ answer: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” After God comes human beings; people should love others as themselves due to many reasons: First, all human beings are children of the One God, so all of them are brothers and sisters. Secondly, all faithful are members of the one body which is Christ’s body; when one part of the body is hurt, the whole body is suffered. Thirdly, Jesus already foretold that whatever we do the least of human beings, we do for him and the reverse is also true; therefore, we must love and help one another. Lastly, when all contribute to the building of world, everybody’s life shall be better. In opposition, if everyone cares only for himself, the world shall be poorer and disordered.
B. The scribe’s repeat: “To love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” He emphasized that people must value human beings more than material things, even their offering and sacrifices to God. This means that if there is someone who needs help to survive, people must use material things which they are preservered for God to help him.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– Many times in our life we violated the first commandment but we didn’t pay attention to it. We need to be sincere with ourselves in carefully examining of our conscience to see if we truly honor our duty to God, especially in our way of using time.
– Many times we also violated the second commandment when we value our material things more than human dignity and their needs. We need to help others, not only with material things but also with our knowledge and time to open their mind and to lead them to God.