The Scriptures for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time quote one of the most important prayers for Jewish people, called the Shema
. It’s the same prayer that’s contained in the Mezuzah
at the doorpost. It’s also the prayer that Jewish people hope is on their lips when they die. When Jesus quotes that prayer in response to the questions of the scribes, He says exactly what they would expect any good adherent to the Jewish faith to say. When Jesus adds the connection between that first great commandment and your neighbor, He challenges others to broaden their faith and belief from a “me and God relationship” to a “relationship of me and God that bears the fruit of love and good works toward our neighbors.” In case anyone had a question about whom Jesus considered to be a neighbor, He tells the story of the Good Samaritan, which appears in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 10.
Our job, as doers of the Word and not hearers, is to imagine that Jesus speaks the same words to us, hoping that we have the same faith and understanding that the scribe did. Since Jesus’ teaching is twofold and interconnected, we need to consider not just one part of the teaching, but the whole of it.
To believe that there is only one God is to establish a certain priority and strive throughout life to keep those priorities in their proper place. To have only one God means that nothing else can take God’s place and nothing and no one should be more important than God. Since we were warned several weeks ago that it’s difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God, we might want to take some special notice to this teaching. Is there anything or anyone that has taken the place of God in our lives? When we take in our blessings or endure suffering, to whom do we turn? In the joyous parts of our lives and when we have everything we need, do we turn to God in thanksgiving and ask Him what to do with these blessings? Do we spend time in prayer to figure out God’s priorities over our own? There might be some differences between our list and God’s. How often is God’s name and sovereignty on your mind and lips when you express gratitude for all your blessings? Have you come to believe that you deserve it all?
In the daily routine, when things become habitual, is God at the center, or does He only come to your attention when life is difficult? When you experience boredom or frustration, is God the first name on your lips, and is it spoken with honor or with disrespect? Do you still believe that the latest car, toothpaste, purse, gaming system, job or relationship will make you satisfied and happy? What part does God play in your life to set schedules and prioritize time? What about the ordinary parts of life?
What about the times when suffering and pain is so real it consumes your mind and heart? What about the times when you are so anxious and afraid that you can’t take the next necessary step in life? What about the times when you have tried your wisdom first instead of God’s? What will it take to have God’s name first on your lips and in your heart?
For most of us, since we are in that group of people who have so much to shelter us, it becomes necessary to regularly remind ourselves that God is the most important. Regularly attending Mass gives at least a small portion of our lives to God.
What habits will you begin to build into your life so that you are constantly reminded that God is the most important priority? What kind of service will you gladly take part in so you may be reminded of your abundant blessings and see God present in your neighbor? How will you speak to give glory to God and honor God’s name and break the habits of gossip, cursing, lying and exaggerating? Maybe some visual reminder, like the Jewish mezuzah, can be available for you at the doorpost, on the refrigerator, bathroom mirror or computer screen. Isn’t it sad that we forget so easily that God is the source of all life and goodness? It is difficult for those of us surrounded by plenty to enter the kingdom of God!
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.