31st Sunday OTB

Deut 6:2-6    Heb 7:23-28            Mk 12:28-34

One of the most sacred things a Moslem can do is make the pilgrimage to Mecca, birthplace of Mohammed. It is one the five pillars of the Moslem religion.

Once upon a time the king of the cats made the pilgrimage to Mecca. On his return the king of the mice felt obliged to go and congratulate him. But when the other mice heard this they feared for their king’s safety. ‘The cat is our enemy, he can’t be trusted,’ they said.

“Oh, now that he’s been to Mecca, I expect to see a great change in him. I’m told he prays five times a day,’ the replied.  So the king mouse set out. On coming into the kingdom of the cats he spotted his opposite number in the distance, and was very impressed by what he saw. Still dressed in his pilgrim’s robe, the king cat was deep in prayer. However, no sooner had the king mouse come near him than he jumped up and pounced. Fortunately the king mouse was a fast mover, and succeeded in escaping down a hole. Later he rejoined the other mice.

‘How did you get on?’ they asked eagerly. ‘Is it true that since he made the pilgrimage to Mecca he’s a changed cat?’ ‘I’m afraid you were right,’ came the reply. ‘Though he prays like a pilgrim, he still pounces like a cat.’

Just a few of us returned from Holy Land. Going on pilgrimage or regular participation of Sunday service does not alone make us holy. Our faith has to be lived out daily. The central message of today’s readings is the most fundamental principle of all religions, especially Christianity. It is to love God in loving others and to love others in loving God. The prayers, bible reading, sacraments, sacrifices and all other religious practices are meant to help us grow in this relationship of love.

By rabbinical count, ‘the Law” consisted of some 613 commandments. The Scribe’s question as to which commandment was the greatest was one frequently discussed among the rabbis. Jesus was asked to name one, but responded by naming two. Both are found in the OT; the first in Deutronomy 6:4, and the second in Leviticus 19:18. What Jesus did was to put the two together, thus emphasizing the essential relatedness of them. No rabbi had previously done this. The emphasis on love became for Christians the identifying characteristic of our religion.

The two commandments are essentially interrelated. True love of neighbor springs from the love of God; and on the other hand, there can be no true love of God which does not express itself in love of neighbor. This is better than all sacrifices. It’s easy to let ritual take the place of love. Then we end up with loveless religion.

There are still many of us Christians today who see our worship of God in terms of observing laws and commandments. We go to church on Sunday to fulfill our “Sunday obligation.” We celebrate the events of Holy Week to do our “Easter duty.” Jesus reminds us today that whatever we do as Christians, in church, in our families, and at work should flow not out of a sense of compulsion but out of love for God and neighbour. Obedience is not the first duty of a Christian. Love is.

How do we love God? We must keep God’s commandments, and offer daily prayers of thanksgiving, praise and petition. We must also read and meditate on His word in the Bible, and attend Mass and other liturgical functions. If I am going to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, then I am going to have to place His will ahead of mine. It means that I may have to say no to some things that I might want to do. It means that I am going to have to seek the Lord’s will and make it paramount in my life.

Loving our neighbor: This means that we have to help, support, encourage, forgive, and pray for everyone, without discrimination based on color, race, gender, age wealth or social status. If I am going to love my neighbor as I love myself, it will cost me as well. I may have to sacrifice something I think I need to meet a brother’s need. I may have to give up time to help someone. I may have to spend time in prayer for people, go to them, and reach out to them in the name of the Lord.