31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Every priest, and indeed every Catholic, can sometimes find themselves in the position of someone asking “This religion of yours – what’s it all about, really, when you come down to it? What’s the bottom line?” Our temptation might be to start going on at length, which is when we should remember this Gospel. Jesus, asked a very similar question, pins our faith down to two very simple things – love of God and love of neighbour – which together make up the foundation for everything else in our religion. The very simplicity of these two commandments is a gift, so that we can try to live them out each day of our lives. The first commandment, which is also that given by Moses in the first reading, is actually a prayer that our Jewish brothers and sisters still recite every single day. Jesus, our perfect High Priest, gives us these two commandments to be written in our heads and our hearts, to remember each day, so that we may conduct ourselves in the paths of the Kingdom of God.
How can we find our way through the jungle of the multiple interdicts and commandments of the Law? This is the question a scribe puts to Jesus in all loyalty. From the confession of faith which every pious Jew recites twice a day, Jesus retains first and foremost the commandment to love God. If God is unique, like No one else, the commandment to love him above all is indeed the first.
Jesus also draws the scribe’s attention to another commandment. Although it is second, the love of neighbour is, for Jesus, inseparable from the love of God. In fact, it is by charity that humanity resembles God, that we participate in the very life of God. That is the goal of the Law. There is one unequivocal sign which characterizes those who are not far from the kingdom. It is not their fidelity to religious observance. It is their service of love in its two inseparable faces, God and neighbour.
This saying will quiet those of every age who value the letter of the law above the spirit. It should provoke thought in those institutions where more care is given to order than to love. The conversation with the scribe raises a point very frequently made by the prophets of the Old Testament and by Jesus: love of God and of neighbour is of more importance than ‘holocaust and sacrifice’. There is a profound agreement between Jesus and the teachers of Judaism. The tragedy which follows comes when worldly calculations are seen to be more important than seeking together to do the will of God. It is a situation repeated with dreadful regularity throughout the history of the world right us to ourselves in our modern world. A world where so few have so much and so many barely have enough to live on.
Let’s get back to the question at the start of today’s blogg every Catholic you and me included, can sometimes find themselves in the position of someone asking “This religion of yours – what’s it all about ? A Good starting point for me in attempting to answer anyone’s questions about the faith is found in the comment in St Peter’s first letter: ‘Always have your answer ready for people who ask you for the reason for the hope that is in you, but give it with courtesy and respect. The answer to the questions can simply be put in terms of love of God and love of neighbour which together make up the foundation for everything else in our religion.
In our relationship with God, we can ask the same question of ourselves “This religion of ours – what’s it all about what’s most important?” How does that question impact our prayer life, our family life, our social life? What one principle or character trait tells others we are followers of Christ? During this year of faith we should think about our faith and how we would give our answer to anyone who asks the question “This religion of yours – what’s it all about”?