The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for the home
November 4, 2018 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Mark 12:8-34
Our parish recently sponsored a newcomers’ night that featured great food, warm hospitality and a Catholic Trivia Quiz. Name four of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Who was the first bishop of the United States? And what was the first parish in the world to be named after St. John Paul II? (The answer to that last question was none other than ours!) While Trivial Pursuit does not have the popularity it once enjoyed, most enjoy being tested about statistics and who won this or that.
Today’s gospel pits the scribes against Jesus in a contest of sorts. They asked Jesus to name the first of God’s commandments. Jesus not only answered it correctly but added to his response the naming of the second commandment. Jesus knew his religion!
When Mark composed his gospel, he was clearly intent on including the major events of the life of Jesus that were valued in the early church. The account of his mentioning the two great commandments was included. It was a central part of the message and life of Jesus.
Sometimes people claim that contemporary Catholicism is “watered down” with all this talk about love. Too sentimental, they say. Wishy-washy. All this love talk can make the demands of Jesus seem easy, even trivial, they claim. Of course, some aspects of contemporary culture do paint a rather syrupy and emotional description of love. Love can mean just a good feeling.
But what does the gospel say about love? For starters, there is the passage that says that love means that you give up your life for another. Or when Jesus is asked about love of neighbor, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. And don’t forget Jesus saying that the Good Shepherd is described as giving his life for his sheep. Is that wishy-washy?
When Jesus mentions the importance of love in the two great commandments, he is expressing the most challenging demands of the gospel. They summarize his whole life. Genuine love of God and neighbor is difficult. As the first commandment notes, loving God calls for the response of our whole heart, soul, mind and body. Truly loving our neighbour, especially those we live with and meet every day, requiresour loving efforts (not just feelings) day after day. Placing the commandments of love central to our religious faith does not make life easier. It’s the hardest thing we will ever do.
David M. Thomas, Ph.D.