October 31, 2021; 31st Sunday in Ordinary time; Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Mark 12:28b-34
Today’s readings demonstrate a continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, between the Jewish Law and the teaching of Jesus. In the gospel, Jesus gives us his Great Commandment: to love God and to love our neighbor. But this teaching of Jesus is not a new invention. He takes it from the Old Testament, as today’s first reading makes clear. In fact, Jesus is only able to give us the great commandment because he was a Jew. He knew, loved, and followed the Jewish law. This truth should remind us to avoid any attempt to categorize the Old Testament as a testament of fear and judgement, in contrast to the New Testament as a testament of mercy and love. In fact, the New Testament is only able to proclaim mercy and love, because God was already revealed as such in the Old Testament.
So, the two testaments speak to us today with one voice. What do they ask of us? They ask us to listen. Both Jesus and the Deuteronomy use the great Shema of the Jewish Tradition. Shema is a Hebrew word which means “Listen.” Our readings translate it as “Hear, Hear, Oh Israel.” The Shema is saying, “Pay attention. What God is about to ask from you is important. You don’t want to miss this. It will make a huge difference. Listen: Love God, Love your neighbor.”
But why should we listen? Deuteronomy tells us that we should listen because if we follow God’s commands, we will grow and prosper. You see, the Great Commandment to love is not given for God’s benefit, but for our benefit. The commandment of love is not some hurdle we have to jump over to demonstrate that we are holy, or a test we need to pass to show that we believe. The great commandment of love is given to us as a blessing, as a way to make us happy and joyful.
So, the only question left is this: Do we listen? Do we recognize that loving God and our neighbor is what makes life worth of living? When we look at all that we have, our family, our friends, our home, our employment, do we sit back and say, “Good, I’m satisfied”? Or do we realize that all our possessions come from God’s love and call us to love God in return? The Jewish law tells us that when we thank God with all of heart and mind and strength, it is then that we are truly alive. When we encounter a person who irritates us or who disagrees with us personally or politically, do we push that person aside, demean him or her, or take on a socially accepted silence? Or do we recognize that Jesus is calling us to love that person as we love ourselves? As difficult as that is, whatever success we might have at loving, that love will make us a happier, more joyful person.
So, Jesus and the Old Testament speak in one voice. They tell us that if we love God and love our neighbor, we will have a deeper, more successful life. The message of both testaments is clear. All we need to do is listen.