Guides to the Kingdom
by Msgr. Stanley J. Krempa
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
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 you 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 offering 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 ask him any more questions.
During the campaign season, we have seen how provocative and loaded questions are deliberately asked of a public figure to obtain a controversial sound bite. During his ministry, Jesus had a similar experience as he was presented with various controversial questions.
In today's Gospel, however, the scribe who approaches Jesus is sincere when he asks which is the greatest commandment. Jesus' answer is classic. He quotes the famous Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." Then Jesus adds from Leviticus, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
When we embrace these two commandments as the guideposts of our life, then like the scribe, we are not far from the kingdom. Perhaps we can unpack that first commandment about loving God with all our mind, heart, strength and soul.
We should love God with all our mind. Some people have a faith built almost totally on emotions. One can be so caught up in seeking to experience God's presence that emotion crowds out reason and intelligence. We can easily develop a faith of platitudes and slogans. St. Anselm once said that faith seeks understanding. As an old saying goes, "Jesus came to take away our sins, not our intelligence."
We should love God with all our heart. Sometimes faith can become so cerebral that it doesn't have a heart. Such a faith has no room for compassion, understanding or forgiveness. Some people may have struggled so mightily to come to embrace the church that they may have little tolerance for those who are yet on the journey.
We should love God with all our strength. Some Christians have both heart and mind in their faith but do not have the will to do what they know they should do. They lack the courage to show their love for God. An author once wrote, "I met the strangest man the other day. He said he believed in the bible, but never read it. He said he was proud to be Catholic but seldom attended church. He said the church should help those in need but he never contributed. He said the younger generation needs the Lord but he did nothing to guide them in that direction. He said that the church needed dedicated members but he isn't one. He said the church should do more in ministering to people but he doesn't volunteer. He said that the Lord is coming but lives as though the Lord will never return. He said that the world needs more prayer, but he seldom prays. He was a strange man."
Finally, we need to love God with all our soul. The soul pulls it all together. Just as the soul animates every part of our body, so to love God with all our soul is to unite heart, mind and strength.
These powerful words of Jesus provide a challenge each time we hear them. Do we know our faith? Does our faith have compassion? Does our faith take action? Do we love God with every aspect of our being?
In this gospel reading, Jesus is speaking not only to the scribe but to us. "Love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, strength and soul and your neighbor as yourself." Then we will not be far from the kingdom.
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