FIRST READING Deuteronomy 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 Hebrews 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 Mark 12:28b-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.
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
Today the readings invite us to place our love of God before all else in our lives. Already in the Old Testament, the prophets and many of the writers recognized that God must come first. When God is first, our lives become ordered and work well.
The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy and speaks clearly: “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” We are perhaps so used to these words that they have become meaningless to us. We need to listen to them again and let them touch the depths of our hearts. These words need to be written in our hearts and lived in our lives. This God who has come in time and history to save us is asking us for our whole lives.
Today many people no longer believe that God exists or that God has spoken. We are invited to make a choice in our lives: either God exists and we must serve Him or God does not exist and we should reject the craziness of the teachings about God. Instead, many of us won’t make a clear choice. We will stay in doubt but not choose. We want to believe but are frightened of believing and find it easier not to believe. The readings today call us to a choice.
The second reading today comes from the Letter to the Hebrews. This letter is always speaking about Jesus as the High Priest. Many of us are not so familiar with this image of a High Priest, which comes from the Jewish faith. The High Priest is an important figure because it is the High Priest who makes sacrifices. The author of this letter wants us to understand that the High Priests of the Jewish people always changed because they died. Instead of that kind of High Priest, we have Jesus, who never dies: “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.”
It is Jesus who opens the door to heaven for us. It is Jesus who shows us how to pray always. It is Jesus who shows us how to sacrifice ourselves for others. Because Jesus is God, Jesus opens the door to God for us.
Still we are challenged to believe. All of this religious language must become our lived experience of God and of His presence in our daily lives.
The Gospel from Saint Mark brings us back once again to this challenge of love for God and love for others. Only when we live this way, with love for God and others, can we claim to be followers of Jesus. Even if we talk about Jesus, unless we follow His way of living, we are only talking about Him and not believing in Him with our lives. Jesus wants us to love Him and to live as He lived, in sacrificial gift for others. Jesus loves us. Will we love Him and follow Him?
Your brother in the Lord,