The Unchained Word of God
“Everything that is done out of love acquires greatness and beauty.” ~ Saint Josemaria Escriva
In today’s 1st Reading (2 Timothy 2:8-15) we encounter a resolute but realistic Saint Paul, who has seemIngly come to grips with his fate, that of imprisonment in a squalid jail cell. Yet Paul remains hopeful nonetheless, hopeful not in his own personal plight mind you, which he has said on a number of occasions is of no significance to him (Acts 20-24). His desire is simply to finish the race, compete well for the faith, and play a role in the salvation of the Gentiles that our Lord has put in his path. Therein lies his hope, and his faith in God allows him to go forth with full and total confidence in the completion of his mission.
Paul’s hope is rooted in the very Word of God, which he points out is unconquerable. “Such is my Gospel,” he says, “for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore, I bear with everything for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they too may obtain the salvation this is in Christ Jesus, together with eternal glory.”
This unchained and unbridled word of God is proclaimed in today’s Gospel (Mark 13:28-34) wherein Jesus carefully instructs a “friendly scribe” regarding the first and greatest of the Commandments. It’s only fair to point out that not all of the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus encountered were belligerent towards him. Today is a prime example of this fact. Nicodemus, whom we encounter on three separate occasions in John’s Gospel, is another (John 3:1-21, John 7:50-51 and John 19:39-42). Upon asking Jesus which is the 1st of all the Commandments, Jesus replies as follows:
“The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your 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.”
Jesus then explains that obedience to this commandment is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. I say commandment (no “s”) for the same reason that Jesus did. Upon first glance it would appear as though Jesus offered the scribe a “2-fer” so to speak, commanding of him uncompromising love of God and selfless love of neighbor. But in reality, these commands are inseparable. As an Italian Deacon I know likes to say when discussing this passage, these two virtues are perfectly and inexorably paired “like the prosciutto and the figs.” He likens this dual love of God and neighbor to two hinges on a door. Without both ~ working in concert with each other ~ the door will not work properly, in this case the door that leads to life in full communion with God’s Law. The door that one day leads to eternal life.
The words Jesus spoke to this scribe were in fact familiar to him. A man clearly well-versed in Scripture, the scribe recognized the words spoken by Jesus for they were written in Deuteronomy (4:5-6) as well as the 19th Chapter of Leviticus. His enthusiastic agreement with Jesus leads one to this conclusion.
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” These are Jesus’ encouraging final words to the scribe. Encouraging yes, but words that imply that there is still some unfinished business to tend to for those with the wisdom to hear and understand the magnitude of this teaching, That unfinished business is of course an actual commitment to this great commandment, putting this edict to work in our lives during every moment and every encounter. In doing so, we are in fact already living in the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that has come yet is still to come. . . now, but not yet. Let us join today’s Psalmist in joyful prayer as we proclaim “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” ~ Psalm 25:4.
I leave you with this prayer:
“Lord, teach us to be good and loving neighbors, not just to those who live nearby but to everyone that we meet, to see the best in, and want the best for all your precious children, who might one day return to their Father’s house and the warmth of your embrace.”