31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

First reading: Dt. 6:2–6

Moses spoke to the people, saying: “Fear the LORD, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life. Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.” 

Second reading: Heb. 7:23–28

Brothers and sisters: The levitical priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, but Jesus, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.

It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.

Gospel: Mk. 12:28–34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

In other words Fr. Dionisio Miranda, SVD (Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City)

Because the controversies he had with the Pharisees were invariably religious, Jesus met them on common ground by asking first what their own religion taught them about the same question they posed. What made this commandment paramount? It is primary, comprehensive, and absolute, as underlined by the repetition “ALL” in its identified engagements. We can imagine three nuances in this totalizing quality.

The first series of all emphasizes that God-centered loving cannot be selective, or part-time, or “on best effort basis” only, but total, complete, and all-consuming. It means to allow all of your heart to plumb the depths of God’s compassion, as Jesus allowed his heart to be shattered by the anguished heart of the widow of Naim. With all your mind means to seek guidance from God’s Wisdom in probing for alternative solutions to the intractable problems of poverty, ignorance, disease, and misery of the least, the last, and the lost of His people. With all your understanding means to side with the children of light, to be as versatile in stewardship of God’s creation resources comparable to the ingenuity of the Cunning Manager in the ways of corruption. With all your strength means divine magnanimity in declining to measure time attending to the desperate, or sleeping score as you forgive the repentant weakling. With all your soul means not to be complacent in episodic triumphs in the acquisition of virtue but to seek to be as perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect.

Strikingly, after affirming their answer, Jesus leads the discussion of the original issue to an added layer of meaning, a secular application implicit in the religious. He deepens insight highlighting a neglected dimension—joined to the greatest is a mandate just as demanding. And as if loving the neighbor were not hard enough, Jesus orders us to a loving equal to that we apply to our very own selves. In this second ALL the totalizing quality of loving we automatically direct to ourselves cannot be diluted or diminished when directed to the “other” who is our neighbor. Like divine love, neighborly love must still be with all our heart, mind, understanding, strength, and soul. Anyone who has ever experienced falling madly in love knows how tough it can be, and how testing at times to sustain. You may not love every part of yourself, but loving most of your own person should cue you into what Jesus means with this command. You are only allowed to not love in another what you also cannot love in your own self. For particulars, Paul’s hymn to charity can help; there you will find the many ways you can love or not love a spouse, a child, or a friend every day as yourself.

There is a third ALL in the two commands of Jesus: “neighbor” is equivalent to Catholic—universal, all-embracing, inclusive rather than exclusive. It extends indiscriminately to all neighbors, like God showering his grace on good and bad alike. What does this mean, say, in a school community? All teachers must love all their students, and not focus only on the bright and deferential. Faculty members should learn to appreciate every colleague because of rather than despite their diversities of personality, training, interests, and expertise. Staff and administrators must collaborate with each other according to their support functions or leadership roles. Love and patience should extend to wider circles like parents, suppliers, alumni, and other stakeholders like employers. Similarly other communities must manifest the values and celebrate the diversity of the Basic Ecclesial Community. Neighbor-love can and must be expressed in differential ways to different sectors, always in a non-exclusionary manner. Church becomes more Catholic the more it models a community where every stranger becomes a neighbor.

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