The readings for the 31st Sunday Tempus per Annum (Year B):
– Deuteronomy 6:2-6
– Hebrews 7:23-28
– Mark 12:28b-34
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְיְ אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְיְ אֶחָֽד
Hear Israel the Lord Our God, the Lord is One. (Please note that LORD indicates the divine name was used in the Hebrew text.)
Reading the Gospel we are often used to hearing “the Scribes and Pharisees” as the Bad Guys challenging Jesus, trying to trip him up. But today we hear of one that he is “not far from the kingdom of God.” That may seem unusual if we miss the cultural clues here. There is a surprising conversation going on for those who have ears to hear: when the scribe asks what is the greatest commandment, he’s echoing a common story in the rabbinic literature which parses out the “party politics” of the time.
A man came to one of the great rabbis, Shammai (who was alive during Jesus’ time – he died in the year 30), and asked him to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai sent him away thinking him to be irreverent. The same man when to Rabbi Hillel (who died in the year 10) and asked the same question. The Rabbi said this would be easy, and standing on one foot he said, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah,
the rest is the commentary; go and learn it.” It was said of Hillel that he taught with gentleness and that his gentleness brought many others to faith in the God revealed to Israel.
The conversation in today’s Gospel seems a parallel with the scribe asking to hear it all in one go. And Jesus – gently, like Hillel – responds with the commandment of Love of God, love of neighbor. The scribe recognizes that Jesus is right. Scribes are often of the party of Sadducees, in this case, it seems the scribe was a Pharisee – like Hillel and Shammai, both, and St Paul later – and Jesus answer (and the scribe’s reply) and be read as a sort of Pharisee-like greeting and reply. To be this underscores that Christianity grows out of a particular branch of rabbinical Judaism rather than out of the Temple worship (which was run by the Sadducees).
As I was listening to this conversation (and Moses’ teaching in the first reading) I found myself thinking about another line in Zechariah 14:9:
וְהָיָ֧ה יְיְ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִהְיֶ֧ה יְיְ אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃
In that day the LORD shall be king over all the earth, and the LORD shall be one and his name one.
What does it mean that in that day the Lord shall be one and his name one?
Jesus breaks this open with his parallel of Love of God and Love of Neighbor: that somehow Love of Neighbor is Love of God. (As we do to the least of Jesus’ brothers we do to him.) This process of mediation, that makes God present in the act of loving our neighbor is made real in our works of charity, of love. Worship of God (faith) without works is dead.
By a coincidence of timing, the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time is also the 31st of October and the eve of All Saints Day. The homilist today used language that would be familiar to anyone who has read certain authors in the “spiritual but not religious” section of the bookstore, speaking of how the separation between the worlds (of the living and departed) might seem thinner at this time of the year. He missed, I think, that the separation is entirely removed at the Mass. I think his constant patter of improv on the text of the missal made that clear, too: the Mass for the homilist today was only a banquet, not a miracle. But it is there, in the elevation of the Consecrated Host and Chalice at the end of the anaphora that the Liturgy is done – before eating happens. One communion of one body achieved and offered at the hands of Jesus (the priest) to the Father. We are one body of Christ, the living souls and the departed ones together around the throne at that moment which is in all moments, all times, all worlds, one: Calvary ever-present in the hands of the one priest.
In that day the Lord shall be one and his name one.
Then swing over to 1 Corinthians 15:28, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him (Christ), then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”
The one revelation of God to Moses – the LORD is one – echoes through all of this in the action of Love: Love of God is love of neighbor. The Living and the departed are united in Christ. Christ is one with the Father, all things become one gesture of self-emptying generosity pouring out to all things.
In the synagogue liturgy after the Sh’ema is recited, the response, whispered in near silence in the heart is “Blessed be his glorious name…”
בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד
The Glory of God’s name… the glory of God… we know this. Hear St Ireneaus saying, “The glory of God is man fully alive…” but the whole quote in the Catholic Catechism (¶294) weaves all of this together for us. “The glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God: if God’s revelation through creation has already obtained life for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word’s manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God.” Yes, here in Creation we can get a foretaste of God’s glory (as I write I’m watching the great display of Northern Lights on YouTube, live from Lapland) but that’s not it. Man is not fully alive – not fully the glory of God – until we participate in the vision of God. We can have a foretaste in the Mass, we can experience the oneness of it, but only on the Last Day, can we see the full glory of God – which will include us.
Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one. And we shall love.