|The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary
Psalms 18:2-4, 47, 57
We who teach here at Creighton University are asked often about what exactly will be on the exam or whether this chapter will be part of the next test. What is expected? What are the precise requirements? The students would like clarity before the test while the professors would like more clarity resulting from the exams. What is the minimum demanded to assure success?
Moses, in the First Reading for today, in a quite fatherly manner, speaks to God’s family of exactly what it means to be the people of God. Often, during the liturgical year, we hear several of the prophets either warning Israel about the consequences of not living as the people of promise, or consoling them, that their time of bondage and exile is or will soon be over. Last week Jeremiah sang out with the good news that the people of banishment were being called back home.
Today Moses gives instructions to his people about Who their God is and what has to be their conduct in the new land they are about to enter. The land has been promised and is the sign of God’s covenantal love for them. They are to love God the Giver and care for the gift as a way of fulfilling the expectation or hope of Moses. What is required? What will be on the exam? Moses, as any good teacher would, answers simply, “Everything!”
A certain scribe is the student asking about what will be on the final exam of life in today’s Gospel. Jesus knows the Hebrew Scriptures and plays back the traditional answer, “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is Lord alone!” These are the words of Moses by which the people of Israel were to remember Who God is for them and who they are for God.
Almost anticipating the next question, as does any good teacher, Jesus expands the field of operation by adding a second, but not a lesser law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!” After that nobody else dared ask Jesus any more questions, because like any good teacher, Jesus said, “everything.”
The Jewish people were to love the land and thereby fulfill the law of loving God with all their minds and hearts. It was the Holy Land of God’s promise and presence. Jesus expands the praying field by announcing that those who follow His ways are to love God with all their minds and hearts by loving their neighbors in whom the Sacred dwells, as does the Sacred dwell within the follower him or herself. The Holy Land is now each of us and we, like our Jewish ancestors, believe it and then drift away from such belief.
We might ask ourselves whether we really do love ourselves, or maybe we love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves and that’s not very much. We drift into exile by our not receiving God’s love for us, which is the First Commandment of all. To love God is to let God love us and that is true holiness. When we pass that exam, the second exam is easier. If we fail the first, then the second is a pretense and will end as a failure. As with the Jewish people, we wander away and God is always calling us back into the classroom of love-learning.
There are reasons, good reasons, too, why we just cannot love this person or that, right now. Injuries are very good excuses. Jesus, as does any good professor, hears them all. The dog ate the cat that ate the term paper. “Love is our origin, love is our constant calling, love is our fulfillment in heaven.” These are words taken from the Preface of the Mass for weddings. Something there is within us of God as our origin and we need little explanation about our calling. We need encouragement to keep learning, keep trying again and again to fulfill our deepest desires to be loved and to live in that holy land of loving others.
The final exam will consist in whether we tried to receive God’s love by growing in our awareness of and response to, God’s love for us. Jesus’ life is our guidebook, but our lives are the labs in which this Judeo-Christian experiment is tested.
“Lord, you will show me the path of life and fill me with joy in your presence.”
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