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Ordinary Time 31 (B)
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Readings for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Deuteronomy 6, 2-6

  • The words I hear, and am going to say, have been repeated on every Sabbath wherever people gather to proclaim the one God.  Hear, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!  And today Jews and Christians will speak with one voice, as we are graced with the same reading in our assemblies.  Let me speak the words proudly, praying at the same time for greater mutual understanding.
  • Most weeks our first reading sounds just like the ancient shadowy event waiting for its true interpretation, as Christians intended them to be.  Today marks one of those few exceptions.  Everything I hear continues in full force among us, especially the first of all the commandments that is quoted in full in our Gospel. 
  • For these and other reasons, I want to speak decisively these words of Moses to the people.  I could almost chant them, as they are chanted in synagogues.  I want to remind our congregation of the covenant that God made with the people, and how we renew it every time we repeat the words, today and every day.
  • The consequences for ourselves are presented first: long lifethat you – may grow and prosper the more.  The whole passage mentions children and children’s children.  Those words do not appear in our briefer selection, and so with my gaze upon our own congregation, the young and the old, and that meaningful pause after ‘you,’ I will make the effort to re-insert them.  We were called, as was Israel, to become God’s people and we must not let anyone out.
  • Hear, Israel!  I say it twice.  May it be a memorable hearing for everyone.
  • The promise of the Lord to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.  As I read I pray over the promise that has been literally renewed in our lifetime, and over the hope that we may all strive to return God’s gift into an abode of peace.
  • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.  This should be in my voice the order that everyone wants to obey – that no one would dream to violate – as with our marriage promises.
  • Climax: Hear O Israel!  “Shema Israel” as it is chanted in synagogues. 
  • Message for our assembly: Can we hear?  Can we take these words to heart?
  • I will challenge myself: Can I do anything to help the church pay attention today?

 

2. Hebrews 7, 23-28

  • I teach accounting, and I remind my students to keep the distinction between “apples and oranges,” such as the cost of something and its sales price.  The author of Hebrews is making a distinction between the mortal persons who presided over sacred functions, the levitical priests who were prevented by death from remaining in office, and the great high priest Jesus who has a priesthood that does not pass away.
  • The priests were bound by the passage of time: men subject to weakness and offering sacrifices day by day.  This description reminded the original listeners of what they already knew, either as Jews or as converted pagans who had plenty of priests of their own.  My listeners today are equally confronted by history and its limitations.  I can read these in the voice of a news commentator.
  • But when I get to Jesus, I need to grow into a person of faith.  We do not hear about the historical Jesus now, but rather a high priest who lives forever, a son made perfect forever.  Yes, it is the same Jesus we have always known, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners – the language reminds me of a sacrificial victim.   A plaster saint?  What about: an incorruptible, honest, soft touch, straight shooter, do-it-yourself, visionary kind of guy?  That’s the way I want it to sound when I describe Jesus today.
  • The ‘apple and orange’ distinction comes in when I say that Jesus offered sacrifice once for all and has a priesthood that does not pass away.  I am opening a window on God’s universe, where everything converges and is valid for all time.  I cannot sound like a news commentator here; let me find the sage who has lived to understand something that is common to every time and place.  It is the language of myth, in which what is true for us now will also be true for those who succeed us and read these words.
  • Climax: I find an emotional high point in the statement that everything is possible for us in Jesus.  He is always able to save.  If only my faith and confidence match the beauty of these words!
  • The message for our assembly: Whether we come to identify with Jesus in the language of the temple, or the garden, or the mountain – just do it!
  • I will challenge myself: To keep a clear distinction in my voice between the former institutions of the temple and the new economy centered on Jesus.

 

Gospel. Mark 12, 28-34

  • Which is the first of all the commandments?  This Gospel passage sounds, the first time around, like a repetition of the first reading.  What can I do to make it sound more like a re-affirmation?  I will assume that the scribe has never met this Galilean Jesus and is looking for a password.  Let me rehearse until I am ready. 
  • Hear, o Israel!  In the first place, our Catholic assembly may barely have a chance to catch the words if they are spoken sotto voce.  In the synagogues the words are chanted en voz alta with special tone, so that no one can miss them.  I could prepare to chant them, too, or pause judiciously as I read.  For example, if I pause after the scribe’s question to Jesus, and look at the assembly while I pause, I am asking implicitly not what they will answer but what they will do about it.  Recall the host who says a collective good morning to those around her, and who repeats the collective greeting if she is not satisfied with their reply.
  • You shall love the Lord your God.  Our object, of course, is not merely to affirm that we hear the words but to affirm that we have honored and will honor the law of love.  We have here not a catechism lesson but a proclamation.
  • Let me listen to the scribe’s answer: that this love of God and neighbor is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.  Do I believe what I say?  Do I see the connection between our common prayer and the sacrifice we renew today, and the way I am to dedicate my life?  Is the scribe grudging in his reply or is he the potential disciple who suddenly sees the light?  How can I bring that out?
  • Climax: Jesus adds the second: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Message for our assembly: Let these scriptures proclaim to us – and let us put into practice – the law of love in our daily lives.
  • I will challenge myself: to read, not as a catechist, but as a prophet, reminding our assembly to dedicate itself to keep the covenant with God, as sealed in Jesus.

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