HOMILY FOR THE 31ST  SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B (31/10/2021)

HOMILY FOR THE 31ST  SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B (31/10/2021)

Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18;; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34

Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai

LOVE AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD

The readings today present us with a message on love. In the first reading Moses tells the people “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, anal with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart.” Similarly, in the Gospel reading, Jesus repeated these words of Moses and regarded them as the greatest and first of all commandments. What is our relationship with this commandment?

Love is the special vocation of all Christians. It is a condition for salvation. On account of love Jesus  said to the scribes in today’s gospel,  “you are not far from the kingdom of God”. Any Christian who cannot love, is far from the kingdom of God. Today’s gospel says ‘love is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ Our sacrifices, fasting and prayers, masses and worship will be in vain if we don’t love God and our neighbours.

We know the commandments but we do not keep them. Many Christians fast and pray for prosperity and favour but are not willing to keep God’s commandments. We want to enjoy his promises but not ready to fulfil His conditions. Precisely because of this Moses reminds the Israelites in the first reading that keeping God’s commandments is a condition for God’s favour, longevity of life, multiplicity and divine overflow.  Therefore, if we want to enjoy God’s promises let us keep His commandments. Be careful, God cannot be deceived.

Again, these words of Moses and Jesus leave us with four dimensions this love can be expressed; they are: The Heart, the Soul, the Mind and Neighbours. We must love God “with all our heart”. The heart, is the most profound and most personal part of the human person. It is the core of intimacy. So, we must enter into a personal relationship with God.

Secondly, we must love God “with all our soul”. The Soul is the seat of human desire. Ps.42:1 the bible says “As the deer yearns for flowing streams, so my soul yearns for you, my God…” Therefore, to love God means we must have an active longing for Him, his works, nature and kingdom.

Thirdly, we must  love God “with all our mind”. The mind is the intellectual home of the human person. It is the faculty of consciousness and thought. So, we must love God even in the things we think about.

The fourth dimension to express this love, is in loving our neighbours.  Christ says “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” If we don’t love our neighbours then we cannot claim to love God.  1John 4:20-21 says “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” Therefore, genuine love begins from those we see.

We cannot claim to love God and yet cheat, enslave and oppress our neighbours.  Lack of love is one of the fundamental reasons we suffer in this country today. Where love is absent evil is present. A man who cannot love cannot serve. Love scores your level of service. Christianity is the practice of Love. In John 13:35 Jesus says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”

 

 

 Fr Galadima Bitrus (OSA)

LOVING GOD WITH HEART, SOUL AND MIGHT, AND THE NEIGHBOUR AS ONESELF

A lot of times we get lost in the not so essential things of life and this can happen too in our relationship with God. Every now and then we need to remind ourselves of the bigger picture, and the fundamentals about who we are and what we are here to accomplish. Today’s readings offer us the needed occasion to remember the essentials of our faith. The readings remind us of the fact that our relationship with God is first and foremost a love affair; love is not only the greatest of all the commandments but also their source and summit, their origin and end. 

The 1st Reading (Deut 6:2-6) is the basic article of the Jewish profession of faith: the “Šema‘ Yisrā’ēl” (lit. “Listen O Israel”), which constitutes the first paragraph of the most important Jewish prayer, recited twice daily, in the morning and at night. It is essentially a call to love God with a sense of exclusive loyalty and commitment.

Having declared the words of the Lord to the people of Israel, which we know as the ten commandments or ten words (cf. Deut 5:6-18), Moses characterizes them as “the instructions and precepts that the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you” (Deut 6:1). He also explains the objective and benefit of observing these instructions and precepts by both the generation of the Israelites he was addressing (the Moab generation) and their future generations (their “children and children’s children”). It is to be a demonstration of reverence for the Lord their God, which will translate into the blessings of an enduring nation: “to the end that you may long endure” (6:2) and “that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey” (6:3).

In explaining the observance of the instructions he had given them as a show of exclusive loyalty to the Lord who both led them out of Egypt and was leading them to a prosperous land of their own, Moses said: “Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:4-5).

The Hebrew expression, “’Adōnāi ’Ělōhênȗ ’Adōnāi ’Ehād” translated as “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one”, can also be translated as, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone”. The former emphasizes the monotheistic doctrine of the existence of only one God while the latter emphasizes exclusive loyalty to only one God, without necessarily denying the existence of other gods. 

Biblical scholarship has shown that Israel lived in a polytheistic context and therefore, the expression is better understood not as a monotheistic confession but an expression of exclusive commitment and loyalty of Israel to Yahweh, the God who led them out of Egypt to a land of their own. Later on, this God will come to be understood as the only true God, for which others were declared to be no gods at all, or at least no real gods. In this way, monotheism, the belief that there is only one God reflects a later development in Israelite religion and became the foundational doctrine of Christianity and later also Islam. 

The second part of the call for loyalty to Yahweh alone calls for full commitment to him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:5). The call to love with all of one’s heart (Hb, “Lēbāb” or “Lēb”) is a call to love God in an all-encompassing way. For the heart in Hebrew is understood as “one’s inner self, inclination and disposition, will or intention, determination or courage, attention or reason, one’s conscience or the mind as a whole”. The heart stands for all these human faculties. 

Similarly, the call to love with all of one’s soul (Hb, “nefeš”) has been understood as a call to love God even to the point of giving one’s life. The Hebrew term “nefeš” means “life”, that which makes one a living being; it is also translated as “soul” understood as the “centre and transmitter of feelings, longing or desire”, thus corresponding to what the heart symbolizes in modern ways of speaking.

The last part of the exhortation to love God with all of one’s might or strength (Hb, “me’ōd”) is a noun usage of an adverb meaning “very” or “exceedingly”. It came to be understood in later Judaism (especially in Qumran and rabbinic literature) as a call to love God with one’s wealth or property, perhaps reflecting a mentality similar to today’s when wealth has become might.

In general, therefore, the basic article of Jewish faith, (“Šema‘ Yisrā’ēl”) with its demand to love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, soul and might, is a call to demonstrate exclusive loyalty and love for God with all of who we are and what we have.

In the Gospel (Mk 12:28-34), Jesus refers to this demand of exclusive loyalty and love of God as the first of all the commandments (Gk, “prōtē pántōn tōn entolōn”) (cf. 12:28-30). Jesus’ reference to the Old Testament demand to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and might, adds also the need to love him with all of one’s “mind” (Gk, “diánoia”), which is one’s thinking or rational faculty (cf. 12:30), an addition perhaps necessitated by the limitation of the Greek notion of the heart as merely a faculty of emotions and desires while rationality, thinking and planning are reserved for the mind, a function which is also proper to the heart in the Hebrew mentality.

To the love of God as the first commandment, Jesus adds the second, the love of neighbour as oneself (Gk, “agapēseis ton plēsìon sou hōs seautón) (Lev 19:18), and the two together constitute the greatest commandment: “There is no other commandment greater than these (meízōn toútōn allē entolē oúk éstin) (cf. 12:31). 

While their arrangement as first and second indicate their hierarchy of importance, with God who is himself love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16) taking primacy of place and the neighbour who necessarily follows providing the occasion for the manifestation of our genuine love for God in the banality of everyday life (cf. Mt 19:21; Lk 18:22), only a combination of both gives rise to the greatest commandment.

The 2nd Reading (Heb 7:23-28) shows us the perfection of love of God and neighbour in Christ’s exercise of his unique priesthood. The passage concludes a meditation on the uniqueness of the priesthood of Christ which spans chapters 5-7 of the letter to the Hebrews.

The author individuates some differences between the priesthood of the Old Testament instituted by Moses and that of the New Testament that Jesus exercised. First, he identifies Jesus as the priest of whom Psalm 110:4 says, “The Lord has sworn and will not change, ‘You are a priest forever’” (Heb 7:21). On this basis, he considers the priesthood of Jesus as guaranteeing a better covenant than the Old Testament priesthood which had become merely an exercise of family duty (7:20.22). 

The priesthood of Jesus is also superior because, unlike the numerous priests of the Old Testament whose priestly tenures were terminated by death, Jesus continues forever (7:23-25). As we read in Heb 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. 

Finally, Jesus is considered to be a perfect high priest fitting to have because, unlike Old Testament high priests who were themselves sinners and had to offer sacrifices every day for both their sins and those of the people, Jesus is holy, blameless, undefiled, different from sinners and exalted from the heavens (7:26-27). As we read in Heb 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested, yet without sin” (cf. also 2 Cor 5:21). 

The author concludes his meditation on the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus by reiterating the fact that Old Testament priests were men subject to weakness and appointed by law, but Jesus was appointed by God’s word of oath, and was not a being subject to weakness but a Son who had been made perfect forever (7:28). As we read in Heb 2:10, “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings”.

By baptism, we are configured to Christ’s eternal, perfect and compassionate priesthood. We may not be eternal like Christ but we are called to exercise our priesthood conscious of the fact that it is not ours but a privileged participation in Christ’s eternal priesthood, hence, the need to safeguard its dignity from abuses that make the priesthood look like a carrier pursuit of worldly ambitions and temporal relevance and prosperity. 

We may not be perfect and sinless like Christ but we must exercise our priestly vocation conscious that we are participating in a sacred calling that has as a main objective expanding the frontiers of sanctity and pushing back on the structures of sin through reconciling sinners with God and bringing back God’s prodigal children into the presence of their loving father who is waiting filled with compassion and ready to wrap his arms around them and kiss them and adorn them with the finest robe and ring and sandals and celebrate them with the fatted calf; for in the father’s house, nothing is lacking, even hired servants have more than enough bread (cf. Luke 15:11-32). 

Above all, our participation in Christ’s priesthood requires empathy and compassion with sinners, the lost, the weak, the fragile, the poor, and the oppressed, for in Christ, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15; cf. 2 Cor 5:21). This is the kind of commitment that loving God with all our heart and soul and strength, and loving the neighbour as oneself, demands of us.

 

 

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria. He was ordained October 20th, 2018. He offers his daily homilies, talks and articles that bother on, faith, theology, morals and many other burning issues in religion and politics. Fr. Daniel writes poems, inspirational quotes and clips.

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