“Shema, Hear Oh Israel”, Homily

Homily, Nov 03-04, 2012: Cycle B, 31st Sunday, Ordinary  Time

A few years ago, we had a priest come down to teach an Adult Ed Class on Islam & the Middle East conflict.  His presentation was well received by parishioners.  As a follow-up, I went to Amazon to purchase a book on the subject.

I deliberately picked one that showed a dark image of a militant on the cover and I thought it would help me understand the mind-set of the radical side of the conflict. I expected it to justify radical behavior. I wanted to know what makes a suicide bomber tick, no pun intended.

What I got was a book that was balanced and well written, and once again, I learned the proverbial lesson that you can’t judge a book by the cover.

Today’s Gospel reminded me of that same lesson.  As long as I can remember, I have always thought of the OT as dealing with the Letter of the Law of God.  In the NT, I expected to hear Jesus call us beyond the Letter of the Law of the OT, to the Spirit of the Law.

For me that understanding was an ‘unexamined presumption’. I presumed it to be true without examination.

For example, the OT says you shall not commit adultery.  Jesus says we should not even look lustfully at another.  He is concerned with what is going on in our hearts, not just obedience to the cold, letter of the Law.  He’s trying to move us from the fear relationship to the love relationship with God.

In our Gospel, if you remember, the Scribe asked Jesus, which is the first of all the commandments? What’s the most important commandment?

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, with all of your strength.  The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than this.”

Jesus’ answer was clearly a “spirit of the law” answer, something I would expect from the NT.

Yet, when you look at the footnote, it says Jesus’ answer was actually a quote from Deuteronomy 6, our First Reading today, that’s the Old Testament & written thousands of years before.

(St. Augustine’s comment on the NT & OT?  “The NT is hidden in the old, & OT is revealed in new.” Very true in these scriptures.)

Furthermore, that scripture from Deuteronomy 6 is called the Greatest Commandment and is said to embody the whole Law & the Prophets.  Jews refer to it then & now as the “Shema”.  They physically place parchment with those words on it in a tube on the doorpost of their homes & touch it as a reminder, going & coming much like we make the sign of the cross reminding ourselves of the work of Jesus.

In addition, not only does it embody the whole Law, it calls for Us to respond with our Whole Self:

Loving God with our whole heart, is our Emotional component.

Loving God with our whole being, our very soul, is our Spiritual component.

Loving Him with all our minds, is our Intellectual component.

And, Loving Him with all our strength, is our Physical component.

Every major aspect of our humanity is to be involved with loving God & loving our neighbor.

I know from the lifelong of learning about my normal tendencies that kind of love is not very likely to happen without a lot of help & specifically the help of the Holy Spirit.  Why the Holy Spirit? Because…

1 – It is the Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus to us in others, in scripture, and in circumstances.

2 – It is the Holy Spirit who opens us to the divine mysteries of God, giving us those “aha” moments, epiphanies, and paradigm shifts.

3 – It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to our hearts with the still, small voice to lead us and guide us & draw us into relationship with Jesus.

All those things can happen only if we don’t grieve Him with our sinfulness, and if we don’t allow the noise of daily life to drown Him out.

Well, all of that sounds nice, but from a practical standpoint, what does it means for us.

How do we love God with all of our heart, our emotional component?  Well, we can make the effort to remove the emotional baggage we all carry – the largest chunk of which is un-forgiveness.

We can learn to forgive others, unilaterally, even if they never ask for our forgiveness. We can forgive them and move on.  By moving on I mean with no grudges and no lists of wrong.  That action opens our hearts and makes our hearts accessible to the Holy Spirit to build a “love of God & neighbor” connection in us…

How do we love God with all of our soul, our spiritual component?  We can understand that He wants to build an intimate personal relationship with us, and not just for our good but for His as well.

We can spend time with Him in silence, in scripture, or at Mass & the Eucharist to build that kind of relationship with Him.  God will use any & all of our efforts to help us grow in that relationship, because remember, He wants that, too.

Intellectual pursuits focused on Him will help us love Him with all of our mind.

We can spend time reading spiritual material, & quality material in general, not just that of authors who write what we want to hear.  We can allow other viewpoints to expand our understanding.  As I said a few months ago: If we are Fox News people – watch CNN & MSNBC sometime.  And, vice-versa.  If we are MSNBC people watch Fox News.  Who knows, we might even clear up a few ‘unexamined presumptions’ and learn something.

Loving Him with all of our strength, our physical component, could mean viewing our bodies as the ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’ and doing all that we can to keep it running smoothly through good habits, good hygiene, and good healthy activities.

Serving others is hard work. Talk to the people who went to Haiti, or the Gulf after Katrina, or Manor house every week. Talk to our Youth who cleanup Dixville one week every Summer.  Hard work…

These are just a few possibilities to consider as ways to deal with the Greatest Commandment in our lives.

As Jesus said & the Scribe agreed, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The Shema!

And, whether God gave us that beautiful truth in a book with Old Testament or New Testament written on its cover….

We should look for ways to mark that truth on the door-posts of our lives.

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