The Propers for the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project
Missa Iustus es, Domine
MIND, SOUL, & HEART, yes, and still Judaism and Christianity are also about the body. We forget the body, spiritualize the whole thing and walk by the wounded man on the way to Jericho. The Collect today could be read like that: “…avoid the defilements of the devil and with pure minds…” To do that, though, would be to rip the collect out of Christianity and make it something else.
Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the Law of the Lord. The Introit could be all about religion and rules, sure. The verse’s construction is strange though: “the way” might be read as meaning Jesus (I am the way), but that would be incorrect. A good reading might be, “The pure are blessed as they go about their life, and who are the pure? Those who walk in the ways of Torah – the Law of God.” Now, that causes us to ask “What are the ways of Torah?”
The Gradual today continues the meditation on God’s law, by focusing on God’s word: By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made and all the power of them by the Spirit of his mouth. The Church Fathers compared the Word and Spirit to the right and left hands of the Father: the whole of the Holy Trinity active in the world. Taken with the Introit, the image is of mankind being led to act in the ways of the Just God who made all by following his law.
St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians also calls us to walk. We are to walk worthy of the vocation in which we are called. The Greek word rendered as “vocation” there is κλῆσις klesis, meaning calling. It’s one of the root words for ecclesia or Church: the called community. So Paul is telling us to live up to being the Church, live up to the standards of being called by God. And what are these? In humility, mildness, and patience support one another in Charity. Above all things, Unity, peace, one body one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God. The unity we model as the Church is the unity of heaven.
But, again, what are we to do? Let us raise a cry to heaven, in the words of the Alleluia, and bring this to God. Lord, what are we to do to avoid the defilements of the devil? How are we to be blessed, walking in the law of the Lord?
There have been several ways to look at Torah, the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures. Much of Jewish spiritual practice can be seen as meditation and discernment of the ways to look at Torah and put the laws into practice. In the time before Jesus, the “conservative” voice crystallized around a Rabbi, Shammai, and – as today – often his students were more conservative than their teacher but the House of Shammai is often seen as the Strict Voice of rabbinic Judaism at this time. The “liberal” voice at this time was the House of Hillel, gathered around Rabbi Hillel. There’s no implication (as there would be today in religion or politics) of fighting against each other to “Win” or “Kick the other out”: the process of debate was seen as part of the discernment of how to apply the wisdom of God. Even though they disagreed, Hillel was president of the Sanhedrin when Shammai was vice president. (Catholics might compare this to the conversations & debates St Thomas records in his Summa.) Christians are tempted to say, “Yes, but now we have Jesus’ way to look at Torah” and then add, “so we can toss it out.” We’ll come back to that.
Here’s a story of Shammai and Hillel, quoted from the Orthodox Union:
A certain non-Jewish “wise-guy” came to scoff at the Torah, first to the home of Shammai, then to the home of Hillel. He said, “Teach me the Torah while I am standing on one foot.” Shammai, sensing his true intention, had him thrown out forthwith. (From this story, probably mostly, Shammai has received the bad “rep” of being a short-tempered, person who “did not suffer fools” lightly. However, this is certainly not the case, since it is Shammai himself who teaches “Receive everyone with a smiling face.”
When the individual came to the home of Hillel with the same request, Hillel responded. “No problem! The main idea of the Torah is ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Everything else is commentary. Now, if you’re really interested, go and study the commentary.” So impressed with Hillel’s response, according to Jewish Tradition, was the visitor, that he took Hillel up on his instructions, began to study the Torah seriously, and became a Jew.
In Matthew 7:12 Jesus essentially cites Hillel. There, too, Jesus summed up the law, saying, “All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.”
Now that we know Jesus is on the side of Hillel, we can look at today’s Gospel in the proper light. Jesus says we must love God with our Mind, Heart, and Soul. But then he adds Neighbor. These are the two greatest commandments. In this summation of the Law, Jesus is actually taking a side in the Rabbinic debate I mentioned above. In fact, the Gospel of Matthew might be seen as a “tract” handed out to Jews of the Hillel school.
In the Gospel today Jesus expands the “Do unto others” as “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.” Love your neighbor as if he were your own, very self. And St Paul would agree – inviting the church to be of one mind, one heart, one faith, all under the one God. Our neighbor is our self. But as heart and soul belong to God, so too does our body. God doesn’t need our money or our time. But our neighbor does.
A dear friend works with the homeless here, in San Francisco. This gets her involved in civic politics, from time to time, especially around elections. We have many voter initiatives and propositions on the ballot at every election. One time, recently, there was a ballot initiative to help house homeless women with children. With the approval of our pastor she was collecting signatures at Coffee hour to support this. When she asked one prisoner for their signature the reply was, “I go to mass and I give my offerings I don’t need to support this crap.” My friend said she almost used a four-letter word. What the a gentleman expressed to my friend was not Catholicism. The gentleman’s religion loves God with his feet going to mass with his butt sitting in a pew and with his hands when he drops his offering in the plate. The rest of his body the rest of his heart and his mind is missing.
We made a vow to the awesome God in our baptism (as we are reminded in the Communion verse. We owe him all of everything we are. We love God with our entire being by meditating on God word (heart), turning our wills constantly over to him (mind), resting our hopes in him (soul), and finally in service to our neighbor (body). It cannot be but by a free gift of our entire self. Anything less is selfishness, greed. Anything less than turning over everything is loss. This is why the Postcommunion today asks God to subdue our vices: any vice is always a failure to turn over 100% of heart, soul, mind, or body to God. Any vice is always a failure to love our neighbor.
Let us turn in prayer, with Daniel in today’s Offertory, and beg God that “he show Thy face upon Thy sanctuary, and favourably look down upon this people” and, by our participation in the Body of Christ he may “free us both from past sins and future transgressions” to love him with our whole being in heart, soul, and body.