A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy
“Moses spoke to the people, saying: “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.”
That is the basis of Judaism, monotheism, loving the one God. The Jews were the first and for centuries the only religious group to worship one God. What an amazing breakthrough! They have been hated and even killed for their faith from ancient times through the horrors of the Holocaust and down to our own time, in our own country. Let us pray for the Jewish people and give thank them for their faithfulness amid persecution.
“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 a long life.” This Moses’ challenge to his people. But the “statutes and commandments” imposed on the Jews eventually went way beyond what was handed down to Moses to include more than 600 regulations affecting every aspect of life.
Jesus challenged that approach, knowing that the laws were like a millstone around the necks of the people instead of their liberation. He was criticized and condemned for actually breaking the law to heal people on the Sabbath.
For us Christians, salvation that is more than “a long life” that Moses promised but rather eternal life comes from faith in Jesus. As St. Paul tells us, we are saved through faith in Jesus not through the Law.
“I love you O Lord, my strength.” Do you believe that your true and enduring strength comes from the Lord? How have you experienced that strength? Do you sometimes doubt it? Let us be thankful for all the times when God has strengthened us.
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
The high priest was a very important figure in the Jewish religion. The author wants his audience, who were mostly Jewish Christians, to know that Jesus is the one high priest. “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…. 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.”
This is a radical statement because it gets to the root of Christianity. Salvation comes from Jesus, not from the high priest offering sacrifices every day. The Eucharist, which is a renewal of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, brings his very presence to us in the forms of bread and wine.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark
“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.’ … The scribe said to him ‘Well said, teacher.’” Then Jesus said to him, “‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
That’s it! Love God and love your neighbor as yourself, two seemingly simple commandments. Yet, they are endlessly challenging. What does it really mean to love God and my neighbor? And the age-old question that Jesus was asked two thousand years ago, who is my neighbor? It is certainly not only the folks next door. Is it only the people we work with, play with, worship with, and do business with? Is it only those who think like us, believe like us, vote like us, and have the same nationality or color as us? Or is our neighbor the man in the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan when someone asked him that question? That was a man who Jews thought of as an enemy, a heretic, and yet he was the person who saved the life of the man who had been attacked by robbers. The victim’s own people passed him by, but then the “enemy” was the true neighbor.
Photo by Silvain Brison on Upsplash
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.