The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Deuteronomy 6:2-6 + Hebrews 7:23-28 + Mark 12:28-34
October 31, 2021
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
During the last Sundays of the Church year, leading as they do to the feast of Christ the King, conflict comes to forefront. With each successive Sunday, the conflict becomes more pronounced. Finally, Christ the King celebrates both the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time and His Last Judgment of mankind.
If you do not face Jesus’ Second Coming while on earth, you will face it wherever you then abide: in Heaven, Purgatory, or hell. Likewise, you will face divine judgment at the end of your earthly life. God will judge your life by how your life corresponds to His.
This is an important distinction to remember during these latter Sundays of the Church year. God judges each human person twice: at the hour of his or her death, and at the end of time. The former is called one’s “particular judgment”, while the latter is the “Last Judgment” (or “Final Judgment”). To emerge victorious from God’s judgment demands that we rely on the strength of God’s love.
There’s a strong parallel between this Sunday’s First Reading and the Gospel Reading. Jesus directly quotes from the First Reading and its command to love God. By contrast, the Second Reading seems very different.
On the one hand, the command in the First Reading to “love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind, and … strength” seems very calm and peaceful. On the other hand, the Second Reading describes the sacrifice required by God for atonement for sin. It’s easy to see that the Letter to the Hebrews is dealing with conflict. But the First Reading and the Gospel Reading seem extremely different from the Second. Is there any way to bring all three into harmony?
The key might be the refrain from the Responsorial Psalm. “I love you, Lord, my strength” [Psalm 18:2]. This verse echoes the words Jesus quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy. When the scribe challenges Jesus to identify the prime commandment of God, Jesus quotes the Jewish prayer known as the Shema. This prayer, which is important to Jews as the “Our Father” is to Christians, commands you when you pray it to “love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind, and … strength.” The word “strength” there echoes Psalm 18:2. “I love you, Lord, my strength.”
But there’s a significant difference between the psalm verse and the line from the Shema. It’s not that they’re opposed to each other. It’s that one is much bolder and demanding. In the Shema, the believer is commanded this way: “love the Lord your God with… all your strength.” It’s all your strength, without any description of that strength. But the Psalmist is more explicit, which makes all the difference in the world (and in the next). The Psalmist claims: “I love you, Lord, my strength.” The Psalmist declares that his strength is the Lord.
Maybe that seems like splitting hairs. But it’s not. The difference shows up in the lives of Christians all the time. It’s the difference between a Christian who wants to love the Lord only with his own human strength and the one who wants the Lord to be his strength. This is the difference between merely human strength and human strength that’s fortified, if you will: shot through with the divine strength of God’s grace.
Even before someone tries to be loving in a specific circumstance, this difference becomes apparent in that same Christian’s petitions to God. Have you ever had the experience of praying to God for the strength—or the wisdom or perseverance—to accomplish some specific goal, only to hear silence from God in response?
“Where is God?” you ask. “Why isn’t God here for me?” If you ever feel like God’s not here for you, and that He’s standing remote and silent over there at a distance, you might reflect on that distance between here and there. Ask yourself, and then ask God, if maybe He’s wanting you to move from here to there. Maybe where you are isn’t where God wants you to be. Maybe where you want to be isn’t where God needs you to be in order to extend His love—His strength—where it’s needed most in accord with God’s providential will.