31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 31, 2021 (All Hallows’ Eve)

Sister Jan Ginzkey, OSB reflects on the scripture readings

Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23–28; Mark 12:28b – 34

You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

In the first reading Deuteronomy 6:2-6, Moses implores the Israelites, “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.” In the next verses, Moses continues, “diligently teach your children.” “Pray this when at home, on the way, when you lie down and when you arise.” In other words, this prayer is the foundation of their daily lives. This is the central focus of all morning and evening Jewish prayer services today. 

In the culture of the Israelites, both in the time of Moses and of Jesus, to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength meant to love God with your whole being. Do we respond to God’s steadfast love with our whole being? Is God the focus throughout our daily lives?

This prayer was central in Jesus’ life and for the scribe who asked, “which commandment is first of all?” Asking such a question was inviting Jesus to have a deeper discussion. In response Jesus answers immediately and directly by quoting from Moses’ prayer from the first reading. This is the fundamental precept of his faith.  But Jesus adds the reference from Leviticus 19:18, to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

In Jesus’ time, the source of security and identity was belonging to a tribe, a group with similar beliefs, customs, and culture. The scribe and Jesus would naturally think the neighbor was any fellow Jew. The love of neighbor was an expression of attachment to one’s group or attachment to a person within the group. The group was what mattered most. The welfare and good of the group were top priority. To love one’s neighbor as oneself meant to attach oneself exclusively to this group who saw themselves as God’s chosen people. The common good of the group was more important than any individual person’s good or interest. The choice was not a matter of emotion, feelings, or affection.

(We would have to go to Luke’s Gospel 10:25 – 37 to hear the rest of the story. Mark does not record the parable of the Good Samaritan.)

This is not the way we interpret this commandment today in our society that values individualism. When we think of loving our neighbor, we are more likely to instinctively rely on our feelings, emotions, and affection. We tend to think of what is good for me.

How can I get my needs met? It seems that many have lost the concept of looking for and acting for the common good.

I believe that the true spirit of these commandments is to love God in such a way that we are exclusively attached to God. How can we live so that God is the center of our daily life? In his letter St. James tells the early Christians that their love of God must be expressed by their good works. Christians were expected to care for the widow, the orphan, the beggar, and the laborer. Christians were to ensure that the common good of the community was prioritized.

Later St. Theresa of Avila wrote, “We are Christ’s body.” The ideal of showing our love of God by the way we relate to others, through our words, actions, laws, and social systems is how we are truly caring for the common good.

St. Mother Theresa expressed this ideal by saying, “Christ has no hands but our hands.”  We are to use our hands to bless, comfort, and heal those who are our neighbors, the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, the refugee. In this way we use our hands as Jesus would today. Mother Theresa also said, “Christ has no feet but our feet.”  We are to go out to our neighbors in need. Christ relies on our heart to be open in acceptance and steadfast love of all peoples and creation. The challenge of the Gospel today is this: How do we keep our awareness of God’s presence before us in our daily life? How do we share God’s love with our neighbor?  Jesus prayed that we may all be one just as he and the Father are one. Every person on earth and all creation are exclusively attached to one another through God’s love. Do we remember that we are all one? How do we work for the common good of our global family and the care of our common home the earth?

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