This semester for our weekly Newman Night’s we have been watching the first ever multi-episode, multi-season television show based on the life of Jesus Christ called “The Chosen.” This week we’re actually finishing up with Episode 8 and if you’ve fallen in love with the show, you’ll be happy to know they’re filming season two right now with hopes of it being ready for this coming Easter. In the third episode of this season, titled, Jesus loves the little children – there was a particular scene that is especially poignant. Jesus is seen doing some manual work, as a craftsman – as a carpenter he would be doing all sorts of building and construction… and this little band of children who’ve encountered Him and been coming back to visit with him are there this particular day helping Him with some of His work. So you see them busily doing these minor tasks as Jesus asks “so who here knows the Shema?”
Usually I pray and work on my Sunday homily throughout the week and finish up Friday night with it in anticipation for the weekend’s Masses that I will be celebrating Mass and preaching at. This weekend on Sunday morning before Mass #2 (of 3) I felt this impulse to preach something completely different than what I had prepared. I resisted that for Mass 2 but by the third one on campus, I felt kind of pushed to do this other homily. That very, very rarely happens – but if the Lord truly wants this, I don’t want to be disobedient to that prompting so here’s my SECOND ALTERNATIVE homily for the 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – October 25, 2020. Thanks so much for stopping by to read this and even more for sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else people share social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again… I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim
They all look up, raising their hands that they do and He asks them if they can pray it for Him. As they continue with their little projects they all respond in unison, these words. Words that were instinctive to them, committed to their minds and hearts with a purity, simplicity and innocence that you can so often encounter when you talk with children. Words that they had heard in the morning when they rose and at night before they went to bed… Uttered by parents and grandparents at family gatherings and holy days in the temple.
They are the words we just heard Jesus share in this gospel:
you shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind…
These words were so central to the heart of the Jew, coming from one of the earliest parts of their journey with God when he first gave them those words in the Book of Deuteronomy. It was of such importance because it spoke of the specialness of their identity as God’s chosen people – it distinguished them from any and all of the other peoples on earth. The God who created everything, set everything into motion, who commanded the wind and the sea… He had made the Jews His chosen ones. As long as they remained faithful, they were to be His people and He would be their God.
But time moved on, their stories unfolded, that relationship matured, at times the Jews would fall away and God would have to create a path back for them to be reconciled again and again. We read that as the Old Testament continued to unfold, more and more rules and expectations and how to navigate life and everything evolved as well. So the scriptures grew to encompass well over 600 laws. All of which had a place and an importance and a reason for there inclusion.
Some that were urgent and non-negotiable like the Ten Commandments. Some came about for sanitary reasons and the health and protection of the people. Some to help the people to grow in faith and maturity. Some prescribing how worship and rituals were to take place…And because people are people, something’s took on a greater urgency for one person then another. If you’re a butcher, a Jewish butcher – you’re going to be a bit more attentive to what makes something kosher and what doesn’t.. If you’re a Rabbi, you’re going to pay attention to the significance of the number of threads are to be in the tassels of your religious garment. These things that all became a part of the “law” included things directly uttered by God to His people (the ten commandments) and those which came through His prophets, teachers and leaders that He had appointed.
But not surprisingly, as human nature hasn’t changed too much in thousands and thousands of years, people would start to argue about which was the most important. The butcher probably didn’t care as much about those tassels as the Rabbi did. And you’re regular Jewish family probably weren’t too obsessed about either of those things.
And again, human nature being what it is, the different groups thought what was most important was what affected their interests, their everyday lives and routines and work… And so for a Kosher butcher, for example, if he saw someone not being as cautious, and particular and careful about those rules as he was – he might be concerned, or frustrated -or think who does he think he is – he calls himself Kosher – thats not Kosher… Why doesn’t anyone care as much as I do – do you know how hard it is to be precise and careful and to do the right thing – I didn’t choose to do this, this is what God had commanded…
That’s just one example. The Rabbi’s themselves argued what exactly constituted a law; when were they in force? – there were some that were particular when they were in Jerusalem, did people have to follow them outside of that city??? Who determined what?
With that background, you get a sense of what the loaded question it was that the scholar of the law was asking in this Gospel tonight. He wanted Jesus to jump into the fray with all the different groups and leaders and scholars who all had a variety of opinions and could be very passionate about their being right and someone else not. This comes on the heels of what we’ve been hearing the last few weeks at Sunday Mass. Jesus having this back and forth with those who were skeptical of Jesus and arguing with Him. More than just disagreeing with Him, they had set about trying to entrap Him, accuse Him, discount Him, raise more critics or opponents to Him. This scene is just the latest attempt. It seems like Jesus answers by not answering… Which is why it frustrates those asking the question because they’re coming at Jesus, coming at God with malice.
But in Jesus responding to them with the Shema, by calling them back to their roots, to what is the foundation of the law and the prophets – He’s getting to the heart of the matter:
And this being proclaimed in this time and in this space, it’s just as urgent as He’s worried about – Our hearts.
Loving the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind… And for good measure, Jesus raises the importance of extending that love by saying “and our neighbor as yourself.”
It’s easy for us to point in the book where we’re doing something right and someone else is doing something wrong. Who’s in and who’s out. A great example – you see that most especially in an election year. God help us, people are losing their minds. It’s a temptation to show you the piles of emails I have telling me to tell you who to vote for… and pointing to all places and things in scripture as a basis for why I should. With a media, with politicians who are all broken and sinful people; with a Church and a leadership that are as well; just as every single one of us is – it’s way more complicated and that’s why it’s somewhat ridiculous for someone to say “a Catholic in good standing could or should vote for so and so.” There’s so much confusion, there’s a lot of misinformation, there’s a lot of important issues to address, so sure, I feel the urgency and the importance of the election. Especially when, for example, there’s some who want to say that abortion, the destruction of the most innocent of human life in the mother’s womb is no more important than the right for someone to join a union and puts them on an equal level (seriously, I got that voters guide from someone that argued that).
But the reason our politics is so messed up is because that’s a reflection of our world and our daily lives. People do the same thing on a regular basis… Look around to say and determine Who is following God’s law and who isn’t? Who does he think he is going to Mass I know he’s sleeping with his girlfriend? What about you, you gossip all the time, like you just did… Who asked you, you cheated on your test? Well that’s not as bad as sleeping with someone out of marriage is it – and besides, the teacher doesn’t care – it’s only one credit and everyone else was doing it, you gossip…
The reality is far more challenging, far less black and white. It’s important to remember that Jesus came to defeat evil – all evil. So this call to Love isn’t some hippie, do what you want it’s all good relativistic message. Jesus doesn’t tell people to ignore sins – time and time again he reiterates the importance of repentance – meaning turning away from sin. He goes even further in forgiving sins which is what initially had the Pharisees, Saducees, scholars all losing their minds. Who can forgive sins but God alone? Who indeed…
Jesus is, indeed, the Lord our God. And this Gospel is about getting us back to basics, back to the foundations of everything. The reason I can’t and wouldn’t make an endorsement for anyone in the pulpit – and neither should anyone else. The reason we need to check ourselves on how we level accusations on one another is because what is the greatest commandment, what is of utmost importance to the Lord is that you – you and me – that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind – and our neighbor as ourselves. That is the priority before and after election day, and in our every days.
That doesn’t give us a pass on any of the important issues in an election… or in our studies… or in how we act in the parking lot driving out of Mass… or the guy I see in my class that acts differently and have such a witty comment that will make everyone laugh. It covers those and every other thing we can think of.
The things I do and refrain from … The words I speak and those I don’t… The thoughts and feelings that I nurture and the ones that I dismiss… The relationships I’m in whether it’s a friendship, boyfriend/girlfriend; parent/child; spouse… How I respond to people who hate me and mistreat me…. How I treat those I hate – those all reflect to what degree I love the Lord our God. Is it really with all our heart, soul and mind? Does Jesus’ second commandment, the part about our neighbors, even have a shot?
For the last 4 days, people have been coming and going in and out of our chapel for 40 hours of Eucharistic Adoration. It was beautiful to experience and see so many people joining us in person or online – from all over the place to renew our awe and wonder that Jesus Christ Himself becomes real and present to us in the Eucharist that we receive, that we worship and offer reverence for in every Catholic Church as we go near that tabernacle. And we spent time over the days hearing 8 different speakers who all touched upon the reality of the difficult, challenging times we’re currently in… the real and legitimate struggles we face and from a variety of different vantage points whether it was sharing personal testimonies, reflections on scriptures, the witnesses of Saints all pointed back to the answer to all our fears, the healing to all our ails, the only hope, the one who is the way, the truth, the life – the one whom even the wind and sea obey…
All pointing to Jesus.
And as we worshipped Him in that Eucharistic host, we were caught up by the littleness, the humility, the accessibility in how He offers Himself to us. He knows how hard, how difficult, how challenging life is. He knows our pains and our fears… He experienced them all and then some on the Cross. Which is why He remains with us in such meek, humbleness for us to be able to taste and see His goodness. He calls us to this great commandment to Love Him – with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds – because that is how He has loved us and how He still does.
There is much wrong in our world… in our nation… in our lives – which people can and should rightly debate and engage in productive ways to address.
But none of it will be productive if we, like the Jewish leaders questioning Jesus forget the importance of their identity found in the Shema. That God has loved us into existence, sustains our every breath and heartbeat, continues to pursue us to be intimately close to us and has gone to hell and back so that we can spend eternity with Him – that is who God is. That is the God who’s words we hear in this scripture and who’s body and blood we receive in the Eucharist. So in reality the scholars questioning Jesus in the Gospel don’t care what was most important to Him – but shared what was most important to them. The same can be true for us. Do we care about Jesus’ priorities or are we more anxious about making Him conform to ours? May we be humble enough to check our priorities.