Thursday, June 3, 2010

Love God With All Your Heart, Your Soul, Your Mind, Your Strength, And Your Neighbor As Yourself. There Is No Commandment Greater Than These.

Thursday of the Ninth Week In Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead,
a descendant of David:
such is my Gospel, for which I am suffering,
even to the point of chains, like a criminal.
But the word of God is not chained.
Therefore, I bear with everything
for the sake of those who are chosen,
so that they too may obtain
the salvation that is in Christ Jesus,
together with eternal glory.
This saying is trustworthy:

If we have died with him
we shall also live with him;
if we persevere
we shall also reign with him.
But if we deny him
he will deny us.
If we are unfaithful
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself.

Remind people of these things
and charge them before God
to stop disputing about words.
This serves no useful purpose
since it harms those who listen.
Be eager to present yourself
as acceptable to God,
a workman who causes no disgrace,
imparting the word of truth without deviation.
Paul reminds Timothy today that Jesus is both descended from David and risen from the dead. This tells us that Jesus is both one of us because descended from a human being and also divine because of his rising from death to life. Since Christ is God, his death has infinite value; since he shares our human nature, he could rightfully offer himself in our place.

This is the heart of the Gospel that Paul has preached and because of that he is now in chains. He is presented as being in prison awaiting sentence or even execution. But, he emphasises, there is no way that the word of God can be chained. There is no way that Truth can be permanently suppressed. Truth always will out (if one may paraphrase Shakespeare). Many witnesses to the Gospel have proved that over the centuries, down to our own day. Prison and torture often have the very opposite effect; they only increase the desire to make the truth known.

So, Paul will gladly undergo any suffering so that those called to believe in Christ will experience salvation in Jesus’ name. No suffering is too great if it brings about the salvation of God’s chosen ones who have yet to believe, a salvation which finds its climax in eternal companionship with Christ in glory.

To illustrate his teaching, he quotes from what seems to be an early Christian hymn:

If we have died with him,
we shall live with him;
If we hold out to the end,
we shall reign with him.
But if we deny him,
he will deny us.

If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny himself.

The point to which Paul appeals is that suffering for Christ will be followed by glory. If we fully identify ourselves with the Christ who died on the Cross, we shall also enter into glory with him. It is an exhortation to all of us to persevere in following Jesus, even when it involves difficulties and dangers.

But “if we deny him, he will deny us”. This is certainly not to be understood as a tit-for-tat situation. It is unthinkable that God could act in that way. Rather, if we abandon the Gospel or part of it for some temporary advantage, then we are no longer with him.

Even when we are unfaithful, God himself remains always consistently faithful in his love for us. He cannot change. But neither can he compromise to accept us when we are in denial of truth and love. It is not he who abandons us, but we him. The choice is up to us and, if we are to be free, he must recognise our choice to separate from him.

In the final words in the reading, Timothy is told to tell the people to “stop disputing about mere words”. Paul’s warning seems to be directed at those who are being caught up in the ideas of Gnosticism. Two leaders of this heresy, Hymenaeus (see 1 Titus 1:20) and Philetus, denied the bodily resurrection and probably asserted that there is only a spiritual resurrection (similar to the error mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Gnosticism interpreted the resurrection allegorically or symbolically but not as a reality. Paul told the Corinthians that if Christ was not truly risen, our whole faith in him was in vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).

In a final piece of advice, Timothy is told that all that matters in our lives is that we try to make ourselves deserving of God’s approval and we do that by consistently preaching and living the truth. It is a teaching we need to hear and implement in our own lives too.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 25
Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
he teaches the humble his way.
Teach me your ways, O Lord.
All the paths of the LORD
are kindness and constancy
toward those who keep
his covenant and his decrees.
The friendship of the LORD
is with those who fear him,
and his covenant, for their instruction.
Teach me your ways, O Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Mark 12: 28-34
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.
Not all the Pharisees and Scribes were hostile to Jesus. We have Nicodemus as one very good example. And here today we have a scribe who approaches Jesus with no apparently hostile motive. He had seen how well Jesus had dealt with the challenges put to him by various groups. He now comes to ask a question which was much debated among scholars.

There were more than 600 commandments in the Jewish Law and it was often asked which of these had priority over the others. Unusual for him, Jesus immediately answers the man’s question. Was this because, unlike on other occasions, it was asked with politeness and respect and was a genuine request for an opinion?

In answering the question Jesus does not give just one commandment but two:
- Love your God with your whole heart and soul
- Love your neighbour as yourself.
Both answers are taken from the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 respectively) and so satisfy his questioner’s request. However, as we read through the New Testament and especially the words of Jesus in the Gospel, we know that Jesus gives his own twist to these two commandments.

First, in answering a question about which is the most important commandment, he gives two commandments which, in his view, are quite inseparable; one cannot be kept without the other. We cannot say we love God and then refuse to love our neighbour. He will make two other refinements. He will extend the meaning of ‘neighbour’ to include every single person and not just the people of one’s own race, religion or family (cf . Luke 10:30-37).

And he will set as the standard of love not just the love we are able to show but the depth of love which he will show by dying for us (John 15:13) .

The scribe is very pleased with the answer that Jesus gives and expresses full agreement. “In that case,” Jesus replies, “you are not far from the kingdom of God.” That is to say, the scribe is very close to having the spirit of the Gospel and to the following of Jesus. He still has to make the crucial step of committing himself to follow Jesus and become actively involved in the work of the Kingdom.

Whether he took that step or not we will never know. However, we can make our choice to start today or renew our commitment to keep this double commandment and to reflect on how well we put them together.

No comments: