31st Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: October 31, 2021
“Which commandment is the first of all?” Why did the man in this Gospel ask Jesus this question? For a good Jewish man, the answer would have seemed pretty straightforward. In our first reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, we hear the words found in the Jewish Shema prayer. “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.” It is considered by many Jewish people as the most important and most beautiful prayers. Rooted in the First Commandment that there is only one God, that nothing else is over God.
So, why did this man ask Jesus the question, what is the first commandment of all? We get a hint when we are told that as this Scribe came near to hear Jesus and the others in discussion, he heard the religious authorities disputing with one another. Perhaps they were disputing with one another about which law was most important, about who is pure, about who is acceptable to God. Probably they were arguing in great self importance and arrogance. Perhaps self-righteous and very sure that they knew all the answers. Probably they were getting angry and upset with one another as they disputed these issues.
It seems the Scribe sensed that something was not right about their religious attitude, something wrong about their way of discussing their religion. So, he turns to Jesus. Jesus gets right to the core, the Shema Prayer, to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. He does not make it complicated. Then he adds something crucial, to love your neighbour as yourself. These both go together.
A religion that claims to love God but does not love our fellow human beings, is not fulfilling this commandment. A religion that claims to love God but then treats our fellow human beings in a way that does not reflect their dignity, is not fulfilling this commandment. Getting all caught up in intricate details about laws, purity, and so on, just distracts from what is essential.
If this Scribe saw our religious disputes today what would he say? Would he be just as disturbed by the religious discussions taking place on social media. People arguing and disputing over fine religious matters. This includes some Catholic figures who are so full of anger, self-righteous, judgement. The one thing that is missing in these religious blogs and discussions and disputes is love.
There is a story that I tell often, there was a spiritual guide who kept warning his disciples about the danger of religion. One finally asked him why he kept warning them about the dangers of religion. He responded. “Because most people have just enough religion to hate and not enough religion to love” The Scribe sensed that those religious authorities had just enough religion to hate. But when we truly love God fully, then there is only room for love in our relations with our fellow human beings. Including in our religious discussions or disputes.
So, each of us as Catholics need to review our own religion. If someone was to watch how I live, how I treat others, how I speak, the decisions and priorities that I have, what would they see? Would they see someone who loves God with their whole heart and soul and mind? Will they see also someone who loves their neighbour as themselves?