Hi everyone, this is my homily for NOVEMBER 4, 2018 – the 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110418.cfm Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim
How many of you remember learning how to drive? For some of you it was probably just a couple of years ago… I hate to admit that it’s now been 29 years ago so I’m sure things have changed in those decades. But back in the day – we had it as part of our physical education and health classes. So our health teacher, Mrs. Ratched had us in a classroom setting going though a book from the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles (that looked like it had been written in the 60’s) that had all kinds of rules, laws about driving. We would have videos about how to drive that also looked like they came from the 1960’s since most of the women had beehives and poodle skirts, guys in shirts and ties demonstrating how to drive. The one exception was a much more current film showing the effects of drunk driving (I think it was called “Death Highway” or something… I just remember it was pretty horrific – making the point of how horrific drunk driving was). Mrs. Ratched was responsible to teach us the theories behind the practice of driving. I remember her teaching us“the rule of thumb” for highway driveway (or as they called it “on the speedway” or “the Motor-highway”) for every 10 mph you drove, you should be 1 car length away from the car in front of you so at 40 MPH, you should be back 4 car lengths – that you’d measure by thumb in front of you… (Can you imagine?) I remember one guy in my class raised his hand and said “Mrs. Ratched, I thought we were supposed to keep both hands on the wheel, how are we supposed to use our thumbs to count car lengths.” She threw him out of our class.
The second half of that semester, after we had completed the theory part was when we were finally put in a car and actually went out on the road. As excited as I was to finally get behind the wheel and drive, I was also kind of scared. The one student that I was paired up with got behind the wheel first… and one of the gym teachers was our instructor sat next to her and said“So what do you do first?” She froze. As I chimed in “put the key in the ignition” she said “adjust the mirrors” then I countered back“buckle your seatbelt.” To be honest, I forget what the correct answer was, I just remember him yelling at us and how shocked he was that we passed the first part of the course.
The point is, there are a lot of rules and laws to driving that are all there for important, various reasons. But there’s a day when after studying them, you gotta get behind the wheel, and start to drive, start to put it into practice. It’s then that you start to realize that – yeah there’s wisdom to the “rule of the thumb” if you have to stop suddenly to give you enough space to hit the brakes – but that becomes a bit of a drivers instinct that you develop (and at least here in this heavy congested area, rarely will you have room to give 6 car lengths to the person in front of you on the Garden State Parkway, so you compromise on that and try to at least not be right on top of someone). When you’ve seen, or had an experience of what a drunk driver has done – usually that rule, that law sinks in – why there is no compromise on that -if you have any alcohol or any drug that can affect your abilities to react, to be alert – you don’t drive.
The theories, the laws move into practice and they are validated in a way that you couldn’t appreciate before… The hierarchy of importance to them becomes apparent to you just as you get behind the wheel and start to drive.
Today’s Gospel is an example of moving from theory to practice; moving from studying to doing; moving from head to heart and soul… This time with the rules, the laws of God. We just heard Jesus’ encounter with yet another Scribe – someone who has been studying the Law probably for most of his adult life – among a group of people who’ve been doing the same thing as well…. They were good at theorizing, debating, arguing with one another, and with other groups of Jewish leaders: what laws are most important to God? how do you interpret them? When did someone violate them and what do we do in those instances? how did one law fit in among the others?
But in some ways, these leaders, these scribes could end up so stuck in the theories, the studies, the particulars, it’s like they took the drivers ed class, but have yet to get behind the wheel of the car. Because as Jesus approaches them, here they were encountering the Fulfillment of the Law (as well as the fulfillment of the Prophets and the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures) yet they don’t recognize him as such. Rather, they perceive him as a threat. In the verses before this passage, they had been putting forth all kinds of law-related questions all in attempt to box Jesus into a corner to discredit him.
As this scribe though comes forth, there’s something different. He asks a question which is an important one, one that no doubt his fellow scribes, Jewish leaders had all argued over as well – Which is the first of all commandments. He’s not asking the order of the 10 Commandments – but of all the laws in all of the scriptures of which there were hundreds and probably just as many theories as to what was the most important… He want’s Jesus’ take on it.
Jesus’ response is incredibly revolutionary to his hearers… Because he puts the Love of God on an equal pairing with the Love of your neighbor. A safe answer to this crowd would’ve been Love of God alone. Because “love” could have left it somewhat general enough (and some could have argued that love of neighbors falls in that anyway) But by Jesus equating love of neighbor, He’s commanding them to start living in loving ways. He’s telling them that their love of the one true God alone is only validated, only affirmed, only actualized when we actually go out and love others.
Sadly in our day and age we have very clear examples what happens when we don’t listen to Jesus’ command and his insistence that both Love of God and Love of Neighbor are on an equal pairing. When people only focus on “Loving God,” that is what gives life to extremism, radicalism…. That’s how you have terrorists driving planes into buildings in the name of “religion” That’s how you have people calling themselves Christian and holding up signs saying “God Hates” and then insert a group of people who they have written off as sinners… Their pursuit of God leaves no room for the weaknesses, the brokenness of humanity… Even outside those extreme examples though, if we focus simply on “Loving God” eventually that leads to a place of moral superiority where we simply believe we’re right and the rest of the world is wrong, and in the process forget to recognize our own faults, weakness and failures – our need for Jesus and His salvation.
On the other side, those who chose to focus simply on Love of neighbor, you can see the birth of secularism… where people will stand up for certain social-justice causes that are important, while ignoring some essential causes that are important as well because maybe they come from God’s law and scripture (Dismissing them primarily because they come from scripture). That’s how you have someone attacking a person’s religious beliefs in favor of “tolerance” or “inclusion” that’s how someone can argue that they are dedicated to care of the poor and then argue that abortion is one effective way to do that – ignoring the destruction of the most innocent of human lives, the baby in the womb.
Jesus putting Love of God and Neighbor on an equal pairing annihilates those extremes, and puts things into right balance. So yes, in our Love for God, we are called to turn away from sin and to do all that we can to eliminate sinful behaviors and not to encourage them – but we have to do that in an encouraging way recognizing our own failures and our need to work together as brothers and sisters in avoiding temptation. And, Yes, in our Love for one another, we are called to be our brothers and sisters keeper – but not at the expense of recognizing who it is that made us brothers and sisters, and having reverence for Him and the Law that he has given us.
Jesus promises that he will be our constant companion on this difficult road of life we are all on. If we listen to Him, follow his direction, we will find it is possible to take the wheel and drive.