B Cycle – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 21
Recently I was thinking about the covenant God made with the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt and slavery. God worked wonders and miracles for them despite their grumbling and lack of trust. when they could have entered the promised land, they faltered because they did not trust they could overcome its inhabitants. Their reluctance to enter the promise land. That reluctance was the reason they wandered in the desert for forty years when if they had acted on the promise of God, they would have enjoyed forty years of blessings. Instead, they experienced hardships and attacks for forty years.
Sounds like a story we have heard before with Adam and Eve as they lost paradise and like the Israelites struggled to survive (Gn.3:17-19). You would think we would learn something from the past stories of God and man to help us respond to God today. What is it that keeps us from looking at the words of God in the scriptures and failing to see they are stories intended to teach us something about ourselves and God?
In our quest to teach our children life lessons, moral lessons, and relationship lessons we read stories to them. Fairy tales and stories with all those values woven into a story that captures their attention. Those story time moments build a bond between parent and child as well as teach our children valuable lessons about responsibility, concern for others, self-giving, love and forgiveness among other life lessons. When we read them to our children, we at times stop and relate the story to life issues instilling in them not only how important those values are to getting along but to a good and happy life.
We might even include an incident which occurred between them and a sibling and a friend to emphasize the lesson. Those moments of teaching are to tap into their reason for feeling hurt, sad, or confused about the incident. Today’s gospel is one of those moments where a scribe may have read from the book of Deuteronomy and the great command given to Moses by God. His question may be sincere as he is trying to understand how that one commandment given to them became more than six hundred laws to follow. It could have been hard for him to understand how the ritual offering of a sacrifice of a lamb for the forgiveness of sin fits in with that command.
Therein lies the problem and the moral of the story for us today. How does our obedience to the law help us to love God with our whole heart, mind, strength, and soul? Following the law ends up an endless effort to curb our selfish desires. Loving God is motivated by a desire to become more intimate with God in response to his mercy and forgiveness and his endless pursuit of us. Following the law is an act of will and the loving God is an act of the heart. Measuring our holiness by the law keeps us from growing in intimacy because we are not connecting our action with loving them. The older brother in the story of the prodigal son teaches us that lesson. The fathers embracing the younger brother teaches us how our human failure never diminish how the father views us.
Notice how the scribe poses the question, which one of the commandments is the greatest. It is obvious he is having trouble keeping all the commandment. How many times have we wished the ten commandments were like a multiple choice quiz and we could choose which ones to keep? But as we grow in our faith, we begin to understand honoring your mother and father has many layers of meaning. Do not covet has many layers of meaning as do all the other commandments and laws of the church. We cannot pick and choose which interpretation of the law is ok and what is not.
No wonder the scribe is seeking clarity, what does God require of us is at the heart of his question. He desires to do God’s will. We are no different. If we could just narrow down what we must do to a single act it would be an enormous help to our living a life pleasing to God. Instead of hiding from God because of our sin we would not be concerned about our failings because we can do one thing well. What must I do to inherit eternal life is a question we all think about in our desire to please God? We do not want to miss the opportunity to please God. We do not want to be like those who were afraid to take the step into the promised land when God was offering it to them (Num. 13:30).
Jesus makes it clear if we love God, with all our being we will satisfy all the commandments and all the laws and all the desires of God. God created us for intimacy with God and if we understood the depth of God’s love for us and his desire to give us all that is good, we would begin to see ourselves as God sees us. How many times have I heard a father tell his children how beautiful they are, how much he loves them and by his words and actions show them how all their temper tantrums that day did not diminish his love for them. That is how God loves us.
We need to see how God responds to us is the same as those moments when our children put their arms around our necks. At that moment all we feel is their love melting our hearts and all they did that day is forgotten. That is exactly how God responds to us. We cannot be perfect but at the same time we cannot allow our human weakness to keep us separated from God. We will never be perfect because we are human with human weaknesses and desire. But by embracing God’s promise to change our hearts we can move from a law based obedience to a response of our hearts responding to his love for us (Jer. 31:33).