A Reflection for 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B).
Deuteronomy 6:2-6 – Hebrews 7:23-28 – Mark 12:28-34.
When I was little, a game we used to play involved standing on just one foot for as long as we possibly could. Everyone who was taking part in the game had to stand on one foot and raise the other. The referee would wait to see who was going to be the last player to have to put their other foot down. That person was the winner. This game acknowledged that we humans can’t stand on just one of our feet for very long. We need the balance and support of both feet or we wobble and fall over.
This reminds me of the important point which Jesus made in the Gospel reading about the greatest commandment. The greatest commandment stands on two “feet”: one “foot” is to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength (v.5), and the other “foot” is to love our neighbour as ourselves (Lev 19:18).
In the 1st reading (v.4) and in the Gospel (v.29), we heard the opening of the Shema: “Listen!”. God calling us to pay attention to His command which gives us life. What is it about? It is a command to love God with our whole being (v:5). However, loving God is not separate from loving our neighbour (Gospel v.30f, cf. Mt 22:27f). Jesus teaches us that whatever we do to others, we do to God (Mt 25:40). The word of God also asserts that “if anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1Jn 4:20). Bringing together these two great teachings from the Torah, Jesus sharpens our understanding of God’s law. He declares that the obeying greatest Commandment involves the combination of love of God with love of neighbour.
What does it mean to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? Our ‘heart’ is the centre of our physical and spiritual life. It encompasses our passions, desires and affections. ‘Heart’ and ‘soul’ are different words, but both represent the inner, immaterial part of man as separate from the physical body. The ‘soul’ is literally the breath of life, which God breathed into man to make him a living being. Our ‘mind’ is the faculty of understanding; it is what enables us to imagine, to think and to reason. Our ‘strength’ is the force or the power we exert in loving God. When Jesus commands us to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength (v.30, He is telling us that God desires our total commitment to Him.
The love of God is a kind of love that is not merely an emotion or a feeling subject to change over time. Rather, this kind of love is a decision on the part of our intellect and will to act in a certain way because of our deep, abiding concern and affection for the object of that love. Jesus tells us that we are not to love God with only a bit of ourselves, but are to measure every thought and emotion, every feeling, word, and action, in accordance with our desire to please and honour Him. We are to demonstrate our love for Him in every aspect of daily life and with everything that we are. “Loving God wholeheartedly” involves loving Him Himself, loving everything about Him, and loving everything that comes from Him – in other words, loving His entire Creation.
What does it mean, then, to love our neighbour? To “love our neighbour” for God’s sake means that we have to show love to people because He has made them and He loves them. We have to be compassionate, we have to be kind, we have to be willing to share our bread with people, we have to forgive people even when they wrong us, and we have to be ready to serve people whenever needed. Jesus painted this picture of “who our neighbour is” in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25ff). Of course, as well as the rest of humanity, there are other neighbours that we have, comprising the whole of Creation. Everything has been created by God and is sustained by God, and He hands over Creation to us as His caretakers. Remember, it is as much a part of loving God to look after Creation as it is to look after one another with that same love.
There are saints including St Augustine, St John Paul II, St John of the Cross, St Benedict and St Kevin of Glendalough whose care for the Earth inspires us because they see the connection between us, Creation and God Himself. St Francis of Assisi is known as the patron saint of ecology. He [St Francis] was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself (Laudato Si: 10). St Thérèse of Lisieux was only 24 when she died, but she left behind multiple instructions on how to be in awe of Creation. Inspirational quotes of St Hildegard of Bingen include: ‘The earth sustains humanity. It must not be injured; it must not be destroyed.’ ‘Every creature is a glittering glistening mirror of divinity.’ ‘Creation is the song of God.’ ‘Humankind is called to co-create so that we might cultivate the earthly, and thereby create the heavenly.’
To sum up, what God wants from us is to love Him, to love one another and to love everything that He has created. We love God when we take care of our fellow human beings and of Creation. May God bless us as we hear and respond to these words today! Amen.