29 Oct Homily 30th Sunday in Ordinary time
Deacon Blaine Barclay
October 25th, 2020
Shema Yisrael, Hear O Israel…When asked which commandment is the first, the greatest, the one with the most weight, Jesus quotes the heart of the Torah, the Shema. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. The Shema is the closest thing to a creed that the Jewish people have. It is the prayer that begins each day, accompanies other prayer, and is the last prayer on the lips of the dying. So, if the Jewish theologian of the law was trying to trap Jesus, to expose him as a heretic, he has failed miserably. Jesus’ profession of the Shema is at the heart of Judaism.
Let’s briefly look at the Hebrew. Shema, means Hear, Listen, pay attention; Israel, means one who wrestles or contends with God. Right at the beginning of the first and greatest commandment is the commandment to hear, to listen, to bend the ear of our heart, our soul, our strength to this God who speaks.
This is also Jesus saying to his hearers then and now, listen, be attentive, hear the Word made flesh who is even now speaking to you. What is our response? Like Mary it should be “Let it be done to me according to your word”, and “Do whatever he tells you”. The teaching of Jesus is very simple, it is distilled in the little drama contained in our gospel today. ‘Love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your mind’. Not just with a part of us, hedging our bets, holding our deep- down self somehow in reserve. LOVE God with your whole person, with everything that you are, intellect, will, imagination, emotions, appetites. The greatest love is ‘Yes’. This hearing, listening, attentive, Yes is the first and greatest commandment. Everything else is built on and grounded in this yes which is the heart of prayer.
But Jesus asks us to go even further. He doesn’t stop with the Shema, with its call to listen to the heart of love. How does Jesus conclude his answer to the trickster theologian’s question? He says, “And a second (commandment) is like it. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.”
The commandment to love God and to love neighbour are inseparable. What does the first letter of John say? “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” 1 Jn.4:20
And just in case we ask, ‘who is my neighbour?’ Our first reading makes it clear. The resident alien or immigrant, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the one Jesus elsewhere calls, “the least of these”. When we love them, we are loving the one who took on the poverty of our flesh right down to the bottom.