My friends, again this Sunday, as in previous Sundays, comes the admonition, “to listen.” And what, we might ask, “Are we to listen to?” The writer of Deuteronomy, thought to be Moses, clearly states that we should listen so as to carefully determine, “what will bring [us] prosperity.” This is then followed by the beautiful prayer known to all practicing Jews— then, and to the present.
“Hear O Israel…love your God with all your heart, and soul, and strength.” Then in Mark’s gospel selection for today, our brother Jesus, repeats this same prayer which defines the greatest commandment, but gives a second commandment too, which in Matthew and Luke are expanded upon letting us know that the second is no less important than the first. We all of course know that the 2nd is, “To love our neighbors as ourselves.
Moses goes on to say of this beautiful Jewish prayer, “Let these words be written on your hearts.” Now to fully understand the import of Moses words, we have to look at a bit of Jewish/Israelite history with their God.
In the Old Testament, a relationship with God could quite simply be summed up in the word, “covenant.” God had made a covenant with the people and they with God. In our day, “promise” would be the understanding we would have—God promises to watch over the people and they in turn promise—faith inx, and love for God. Each of us, through our godparents said, “yes” to this commitment to God when we were baptized and at our confirmations, we said our own “yeses.”
The Israelites, in the beautiful prayer, “Hear O Israel,” pray that this admonition, that they love God with all their heart, soul, and strength, would literally, “be written on their hearts,” so as to never forget. And further, this action of having this commandment, “written on their hearts,” lifts up for them how important it truly is. They would have seen this action as, “engaging their consciences,” too, so that the observance isn’t, “cold and methodical,” but truly, “alive” and what would make them well, in all ways, and would ultimately cause them, “to prosper” as Moses spoke of in the first reading.
Additionally, for the Hebrew people, “the heart” was considered the “seat” of their minds and wills. Their souls were thought of as, “the source of all vitality” and, “all of one’s strength.” All of this, in combination then, was “to be taken to their hearts,” or in other words, “taken very seriously.”
So it is, with this understanding, that Jesus answers the scribe’s question in today’s gospel. Often times, the scribes and Pharisees are attempting to trip Jesus up—to find fault with his seemingly unorthodox teachings, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here—this scribe who would have been well-versed in the 613 laws to regulate the people’s lives, was simply asking Jesus which he thought, “was most important.”
Our brother Jesus—always one to give more than what is asked for, repeats the “O Israel” prayer laying out the commandment to love their God, with the totality of their beings, but adds a second commandment, “no less important,” he says, to complete the instruction—that they/we “love our neighbors as ourselves.” And over time, these two have come to be known as, the Two Great Commandments. Those who have spent time thinking on these two, have said that really, keeping them is all that is needed where laws and commandments are concerned.
Jewish scholar, Hillel, under whom it is thought that Paul of Tarsus studied, put it this way—after these two, “all the rest is commentary.”
The writer to the Hebrews, in today’s 2nd reading, speaks of our brother Jesus as our, “high priest,” who is holy, without fault and as one, “set apart.” Clearly, we should keep our eyes on him. Jesus’ commitment was, “total” to the One who sent him and if we would be his followers, ours must be too, this writer seems to be saying.
So my friends, bringing all this forward, what do these readings say to us? Because you see, our very own “yeses” to God/Jesus, in time, call us to more than just, “hearing” the Word—we must act on it too.
For the Israelites, saying that they “loved God” meant that they must love those others that God is in commitment with too. The way this often played out for them in real life was that for this nomadic people—one that “traveled” a good deal, everyone—friend or foe—they named them, “strangers and guests,” were welcome at their homes and could expect, “hospitality”—that’s what, “writing it on their hearts” meant to them.
For us friends, as Christians—Jesus’ followers, this means, that we must welcome and care for, “the Body of Christ.” And we all know that this care goes further than the “bread” of the altar. Some things to care about this next week within the Body of Christ:
- The COP26 Summit—the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland
- Racism—at our roots
- Sexism/patriarchy—rooted deeply too
- Poverty and homelessness in our country, and the list can go on—but this is probably enough to ponder and pray over for a week
But it is right that we care because as Jesus said, “How can you say that you love God whom you cannot see, but not love your neighbor who you can?” Jesus said it best in Matthew 25— “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do it for me.” Our hearts, my friends, are generally in the right place; but our bodies and minds aren’t always there. When we find it hard to do something kind for someone we may not like, it’s good to remember that they may be carrying a heavy load around and are doing the best that they can. What is presented to the world may be a sullen, unfriendly countenance and their actions may seem selfish and unkind, but it may be that they are living with a broken heart.
When we say we love another with our whole heart and mind, soul and strength, as we talked about here today, we must include all those whom that one loves. It is that way with God too. And when we love, or try to love completely, as God does, we too are close to the kindom because we are doing what God does. Let me repeat that–when we love, or try to love completely, as God does, we too are close to the kindom because we are doing what God does.
This next week, remember All Saints and All Souls days on the 1st and 2nd of November—all those who have gone on before us—who perhaps have shown us the way. And all the Sundays in November, I will have our Book of Life here for you to remember all your loved ones who have passed on and to add any new names that you may have. Amen? Amen!