31 Sunday B - Foundation of our Faith: Shema-2 Commandments


‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.’ Was this simply the setting of an impossible ideal? For it would seem that much of the history of the People of God is merely a demonstration of how much they failed to live up to their calling. It is as though the priests offering sacrifices in the temple were busy trying in vain to keep open the lines of communication between heaven and earth. Jesus, however, lived out the Shema to the very point of laying down his life and in so doing he unblocked the path between God and humanity. This is how he became our way to the Father and changed what seemed like an impossible ideal into a wonderful opportunity. We really can love God because he has loved us first.

 Sean Goan

One of the earliest heresies dealt with by the early church was led by Marcion, a man who taught that the Old Testament had nothing useful to say about God. He affirmed that Jesus presented a new God in his Father. Marcion failed to grasp that the prophetic vision of Jesus was entirely rooted in the scriptures of the chosen people and this is very evident in the scene put before us now. At the heart of Judaism is the She ma, the call to love God wholly and completely. The reason for this call was an awareness that Yahweh had revealed himself to his people through the Sinai covenant and, in the events of the exodus, had shown himself as a compassionate saviour. The chosen people where therefore acutely aware that their faith was based on practice and could not be separated from love of neighbour. In the gospel, Jesus and the scribe agree on these essentials and so offer us a reminder of what is also at the core of Christianity.
Thomas O'Loughlin

Gospel: Mk 12:28-34

This passage, given the title ‘the great commandment,’ is one of the few places where Mark’s episode is longer than that found ineither Matthew or Luke (both of which only parallel vv 28-3 1).

In Mark the questioner is presented as a genuine seeker after the truth and not some cute word-spinner seeking either to trap Jesus or engage in fanciful display of legal skill. The scribe Comes and asks a basic question, and is given the basic teaching inresponse.

Both commandments are taken from the Law: the first is taken from Deut 6:4 (see the first reading), while the second is taken from Lev 19:18. In presenting the teaching in this way, Mark wishes to present Jesus as both the continuation and the fulfilment of the Law.

Lastly, we have vv 32-4 which form the scribe’s reply and which are, fundamentally, a repetition of what Jesus has just said,prefaced by the word ‘Teacher’. This is more than a rhetorical device: the role of the disciple in every master-disciple exchange was to be able to repeat the master’s teaching and praise his wisdom while doing so (it is a form preserved in many ancient texts), and it is used here to show not only that the scribe has become a model disciple, but that here we have the formal teaching of Jesus as Teacher, and as such each person hearing the story is placed in the position that s/he should say: ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’

And, then, as a reward for having become a disciple, hear: ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.
Michel DeVerteuil
Textual Comments 

This Sunday's passage consists mainly of abstract teaching, but the context is a story, and it would be good to enter into it. You can read it simply as a story of Jesus the teacher, and notice how he enters into a real dialogue with the scribe:

 - verse 28, the scribe initiates the dialogue with a question;
 - verses 29 to 31, Jesus answers the question with a clear but paradoxical answer, since the "first" commandment turns out to be two;
 - verses 32 and 33, the scribe takes up the dialogue by accepting the teaching of Jesus, but adds his own interpretation;
- verse 34, Jesus continues the dialogue by complimenting the scribe, and then invites him to go further, since he is still not at "the kingdom" although he is "not far".

As you go through the verses you can focus on the scribe - evidently a humble person who grows in confidence through the dialogue -or on Jesus, the model of one who can walk with another into the truth. You might prefer to concentrate on the content of the teaching in the passage, . At one level there is the "first commandment," greater than any other, and in particular greater than any "holocaust or sacrifice", which you can interpret either as ritual sacrifices or as the sacrifices involved in daily living. Remember the actual journey that you (or others) have made from putting other commandments higher that "the first" to when Jesus brought you back to a correct hierarchy of values.

At a second level, there is the paradox which I mentioned earlier of a "first commandment" which turns out to be two, although within the two (which are really one) there is an inner hierarchy. Don't leave this teaching abstract, but situate it in the context of a journey which leads there.

Finally, you might like to focus on the teaching on loving one's neighbour as oneself. Don't take it for granted that you have accepted it. Explore the meaning of "as oneself"; let it shock and disturb you until you perceive as if for the first time that you had settled for a particular understanding of the concept of loving your neighbour, and see how these words modify it. ;


1. Christians are often blamed for being so concerned for the next life that they ignore the value and beauty of the world around them. Christians are blamed for being so interested in being saved from the world, that they do not care for saving the planet.Christians are blamed for being so interested in their ‘souls’ that they do not take sufficient interest the practicalities of life.

2. This caricature is unjust, but we have to admit that many Christians have adopted such a strange attitude to the material world that it is easy to see how the caricature has arisen. Indeed, there are many people who preach a version of Christianity that runs like this: God made the world as a testing-ground for human beings. The time in the testing-ground is only a transitory stage and  the testing-ground is only a background. What counts is saving one’s soul and this is really a private matter that has little to do with other people and precious little to do with the material creation. In short, Christianity is about getting rescued from the world  by Jesus.

3. It is very hard to say just how this ‘Christianity’ conflicts with the Catholic vision of creation in terms of a list of points;rather it conflicts with a whole vision of the universe as somehow pointing towards a source that is greater than it, and of the whole creation displaying a purpose that embraces the whole of reality while still being greater than it.
4. Ours is a sacramental vision of the creation: all comes from God, all somehow bears the imprint of its divine origin, it all comes into being through the Son, it all speaks to us of its origin, we come to appreciate its plan through our faith in the Son who has entered the creation as one of us, and we look forward not to the creation being abandoned but brought to its perfection in Christ the king of the universe.

5. What do we mean by a sacramental vision? Let’s begin with what we are doing now: here we are gathered as a group of  people for a meal, we are using words to speak of realities that are beyond words, we are using food and drink to experience being united with one another and with Christ. The realities of this creation — a gathering, words, food — are not just speaking  to us about this life, but the whole of life uniting us to all the Christians here on earth, with the saints in heaven, with the Lord who died and rose.
Unless we engage with the physical realities of other people in the assembly, unless we hear stories like those in the scriptures, unless we eat and drink in this meal — that larger world remains hidden to us. This world reveals the divine world to us and  enables us to encounter it.

6. Let’s now think about our lives and the people we love. Anyone who loves another person knows that that love transforms  the whole of life, it gives purpose and energy, and brightens up every moment. When love or commitment goes sour or is taken away, then it sucks the joy, the light, and the energy from life. It is through human loving and being loved that we discover that  there is love in the universe. In discovering that love we discover purpose and providence, and can learn to love God and to  accept God’s love. It is in the intimacy of human, earthly, love that we know that love is more than an earthy reality. This world’s  love reveals the divine love to us and enables us to encounter it. 

7. Now let us think  about the creation: the universe, our planet with all its wonders, the environment that enables us to live. We profess that all of it, heaven and earth, is the work of the creator. ‘We believe in one God, the Father, almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, of all that is’ whether it is visible or invisible. This all comes from God and in ‘doing its thing’ it sings his praises. It is through discovering the wonder around us that we realise that there is a wonder beyond these wonders. It is in relating to the creation that we discover more about who we are and the vastness of God’s majesty and love. This universe  reveals the divine to us and enables us to encounter it.

8. It is when we love others and through loving the creation that we express our love for God. It is through caring for others with all our mind and heart and strength that we come to know the love of God and to love God. We embrace each other and we embrace the creation because this is how we learn to be embraced by God.

 9. We often say we are the People of God. But to be the people of God we have, first, to become the people of love. To be the  people of God we have, first, to become the people of the Creation. 

Prayer Reflection

       Lord, there was a time when we felt confused,
       pulled in different directions.
       as we tried to satisfy all our obligations.
       We thank you that you always send us teachers like Jesus
       who bring us back to basics.
       They make us experience that loving you with all our hearts,
       with all our understanding and strength,
       and to love our neighbour as ourselves
       is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.
       At that moment we know that we are on the right road to the Kingdom
       and we don't feel the need to ask any further questions.

       Lord, we serve you in our private lives, in church and in our prayer,
       in our families, within our circle of friends.
       But in the world of business, politics and international relations we follow other gods.
       Send us teachers like Jesus to remind us that you are one Lord,
       that you are one and there is no other God,
       and that in every area of life we must love our neighbour as ourselves.
       Lord, it is fairly easy to help our neighbours,
       to give things that are left over and that we no longer need,
       even to put ourselves to some trouble
       so that they may have something to eat and clothes to wear.
       But your commandment calls us to go further
       and to love our neighbour as ourselves,
       to experience that we need them as they need us,
       that when we forgive them it is our own sins that we forgive,
       and when we pity them it is because we ourselves need pity.

       An Aboriginal Australian once said to a missionary:
       "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.
       But it you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,
       then let us work together."
       Lord, we thank you for your commandment,
       you must love your neighbour as yourself.

       Lord, we pray that your Church may enter into dialogue
       with the learned people, the scribes, of our modern world,
       not arrogantly, but like Jesus,
       answering clearly the questions they put to us,
       so that we can feel that we have spoken well
       and that what we have said is true,
       and so that listening to them in turn
       we too may discover how wisely they speak
       and how they are not far from the kingdom;
       then there will be no more of that constant questioning of    one another.

       Lord, there are often very wise people in our communities
       who are shy to come forward, like the scribe in the gospel story.
       They prefer to listen to others debating
       and to observe how well the teacher is answering
       before they will come up and put their own questions.
       We thank you for teachers like Jesus
       who can respond to them and help them express in their own way
       their understanding of the commandments,
       and so find that they are on the right road to the kingdom.

       Lord, some of us are shy; like the scribe in the gospel story
       we listen to others debating and observe how well the teacher is answering
       before we come up and put our own questions.
       We thank you for good teachers we have known who responded to us
       and helped us to express the teaching in our own way,
       so that we understood that we were on the right road to the kingdom
       and did not need to question them any more.


1)    First Thing in the Morning:
A few years ago, a radio station ran a contest. Disc jockeys invited their listeners to tune in their clock radios. "Just for fun," they said, "when you wake up to the sound of FM-106, call and tell us the first words you spoke when you rolled out of bed. If you're the third caller, you'll win $106."

It didn't take long for the contest to grow in enthusiasm. The first morning, a buoyant disc jockey said, "Caller number three, what did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?" A groggy voice said, "Do I smell coffee burning?" Another day, a sleepy clerical worker said, "Oh no, I'm late for work." Somebody else said her first words were, "Honey, did I put out the dog last night?" A muffled curse was immediately heard in the background, and then a man was heard to say, "No, you didn't." It was a funny contest and drew a considerable audience. 

One morning, however, the third caller said something unusual. The station phone rang. "Good morning, this is FM-106. You're on the air. What did you say when you rolled out of bed this morning?"

 A voice with a Bronx accent replied, "You want to know my first words in the morning?" 

The bubbly DJ said, "Yes, sir! Tell us what you said."

The Bronx voice responded, "Shema, Israel ... Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." There was a moment of embarrassed silence. Then the radio announcer said, "Sorry, wrong number," and cut to a commercial.

 Try to remember. What did you say when you rolled out of bed today? Chances are, those words set the tone for the rest of the day...
 2)    New parents are always so eager and anxious for their babies to learn to talk.

We cajole and coo and coax them to get out those first precious words. But eventually parental prayers are answered, and the child speaks. 

Next thing they know, however, Mom and Dad are being grilled by junior or missy who have discovered the all important "Why?" question. 

There are the science questions - "Why is the sky blue?" "Why does the wind blow?" "Why is water wet?" "Where exactly in our bodies are we located?" 

There are the personal questions-"Why do I have to go to bed?" "Why do I have to eat my vegetables?" "Why do I have to wear a coat?"  

There are relational questions-"Why are you crying?" "Why did Grandpa die?" Why do I have to be nice to that funny smelling person?"  

Even when a long litany of "Why?" questions get tedious, good parents know they need to keep answering. Children learn from asking question. But it isn't so much the answer to their inquiry that they are learning. What our children are really learning with these first "Why?" questions is to turn to the ones who love them the most, who care for them as family, for an expansion of knowledge and an expression of love. Questions keep parent and child engaged in an on-going, living, growing relationship...

 3)    Full Devotion to God 

In the days of the circuit riders a minister was out riding one afternoon and came upon a man out working in his field. 

"Fine day isn't it?" the minister called out. 

"Its fine for you", the man replied, "All you have to do is ride around on that horse thinking about God all day long, while I have to sweat here in this field and then walk home afterward. I don't think it is right you should have things so easy while I have to work so hard." 

"On the contrary", the minister answered, "thinking about God is one of the most difficult things you can do. And to prove it, I'll give you this horse if you can think about God and nothing else for one minute." 

"You're on," said the man and immediately he sat down in silence. Thirty seconds later he looked up at the minister, and said, "Does that include the saddle?" 

Richard Fairchild, Not Far from the Kingdom of God.

 4)    Watching Out for Us 

Jesus wants us to love God and others with our soul. The soul is that part of us that denies logic. It is a mystery. Loving with our souls goes beyond what people would consider as normal. We give forth our love because we want to and it probably makes no sense to outsiders.

During the course of earning her master's degree, a woman found it necessary to commute several times a week from Victory, Vermont to the state university in Burlington, a good hundred miles away. Coming home late at night, she would see an old man sitting by the side of her road. He was always there, in sub zero temperatures, in stormy weather, no matter how late she returned. He made no acknowledgment of her passing. The snow settled on his cap and shoulders as if he were merely another gnarled old tree. She often wondered what brought him to that same spot every evening. Perhaps it was a stubborn habit, private grief or a mental disorder.

Finally, she asked a neighbor of hers, "Have you ever seen an old man who sits by the road late at night?" "Oh, yes," said her neighbor, "many times." "Is he a little touched upstairs? Does he ever go home?" The neighbor laughed and said, "He's no more touched than you or me. And he goes home right after you do. You see, he doesn't like the idea of you driving by yourself out late all alone on these back roads, so every night he walks out to wait for you. When he sees your taillights disappear around the bend, and he knows you're okay, he goes home to bed."  

Keith Wagner, Almost Heaven

 5)    Wouldn't It Be Great?  

Wouldn't it be great if I won a million dollars? Well, maybe it wouldn't be so great. Not everyone has the same idea of a great time. One person's wish may be another's nightmare. Take, for example, the story of three men who were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean. Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island. They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past. The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and found an ancient lantern. One man picked it up. As he began to rub it and clean it, a genie popped out and said, "Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish."  

The first man said, "Oh, that's perfectly marvelous. I'm a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch." Poof! He was back on his ranch.  

The second man said, "Well, I'm a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan." Poof! He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers.  

The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually had rather enjoyed life there on the island. He said, "Well, I am quite happy here. I just wish my two friends were back." Poof! Poof! Everybody's idea of a "great time" isn't the same!  

So is it true? Are many Americans sitting around wishing, "Now wouldn't it be great ...if I won the lottery...if I had my dream house...if I was famous...." As the people of God...what if instead of wishing for money or fame or success or more "things," we could just as earnestly wish with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength that we could love the Lord our God and love our neighbor as ourselves? 

David Beckett, Wouldn't It Be Great?

 6)    Loving out of Obligation 

A rabbi was asked, "Which act of charity is higher--giving out of obligation or giving from the heart?" 

All in the class were inclined to respond that giving from the heart had something more in it, but they knew the rabbi was going to say just the opposite, because in spiritual teaching nothing is logical. They were not disappointed. 

"Giving from the heart is a wonderful thing," the rabbi said, "It is a very high act and should never be demeaned. But there is something much more important that happens when somebody gives charity out of obligation. 

"Consider who is doing the giving. When somebody gives from the heart, there is a clear sense of oneself doing something; in other words, heartfelt charity always involves ego gratification. 

"However, when we give out of obligation, when we give at a moment that every part of us is yelling NO! because of one reason or another--perhaps the beneficiary is disgusting, or it is too much money, or any of thousands of reasons we use to avoid giving charity--then we are confronting our own egos, and giving nonetheless. Why? Because we are supposed to. And what this means is that it is not us doing the giving, rather we are vehicles through which God gives... 

David A. Cooper, 

 7)    The Strong, Saving Love 

I think it was Charlie Brown who said, "I love humanity! It is people I can't stand!" Yet the costly love that Jesus embodies involves an intimate encounter with God's fierce and holy love. It involves pouring out self for real people, sinners all, with all their real-life quirks, faults, smells, and flesh-and-blood sins.

That harried young mother in the doctor's waiting room (or maybe the next pew): perhaps loving her as yourself means offering to watch the toddler while she feeds the baby. That person in line at the bank who's stumbling over the English language and struggling to understand deposits and withdrawals: could loving him mean stepping out of line and helping him get it straight? That next-door neighbor struggling to keep his marriage together, that daughter who pushes your buttons every ten minutes, that husband scared of being laid off -- these are the ones who desperately need the strong saving love, the compassion and mercy, the challenge and holiness and presence of Jesus. In those moments, dare to risk being rebuffed or inconvenienced. Dare to look foolish and make mistakes. Dare to love God and that person, even if it wrings your heart with pain to do so. It's what we've been created, redeemed, and commanded to do. Hang your whole life on love, for the truth is, it's God's love, active in you. And his love will never fail.

Cathy A. Ammlung,
8)    Beauty and the Beast 

G. K. Chesterton once said that the really great lesson of the story of "Beauty and the Beast" is that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. A person must be loved before that person can be loveable. Some of the most unlovely people I have known got that way because they thought that nobody loved them. The fact of the matter is that unless and until we feel ourselves loved, we cannot love. That's not only a principle of theology but of psychology and sociology as well. Just as abused children grow up to abuse their children, loved children grow up to love their children. Loved persons are able to love. Unloved persons are not. Christianity says something startling. It says that God loves and accepts us "just as we are." Therefore we can love and accept ourselves and in so doing, love and accept others.  

Donald B. Strobe, Collected Words,

 Love is not blind. Love is the only thing that sees. 

Frank Crane

 9)    Chip It Away 

There is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the center of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking. 

A neighbor asked, "How did you ever carve such a marvelous likeness of an elephant?" 

The man answered, "I just chipped away everything that didn't look like an elephant!" 

If you have anything in your life right now that doesn't look like love, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have anything in your life that doesn't look like compassion or mercy or empathy, then, with the help of God, chip it away! If you have hatred or prejudice or vengeance or envy in your heart, for God's sake, and the for the other person's sake, and for your sake, get rid of it! Let God chip everything out of your life that doesn't look like tenderheartedness. 

James W. Moore


10) Representing Christ 

When I was at Drew University in New Jersey, I became friends with a Catholic priest named Sean O'Kelly. Sean was redheaded and always seemed to have a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. He spoke with a heavy Irish brogue because he had only been in America for a few years.

While he was in school, he was also pastoring a Catholic church in the heart of Newark, New Jersey. If you want to talk about urban blight and poverty and hunger, all you have to do is to take a trip up and down the streets of Newark.

On one occasion, Sean heard that a family in his parish was hungry. Because of a bureaucratic foul-up, a mother with five small children had no food and no hope of getting any until the end of the month.

Although the family was not Catholic, Sean O'Kelly went to the grocery store and bought a supply of groceries. There were three full sacks, and he went to the apartment building where the family lived. After carrying the groceries up four flights of stairs and walking down a long hall, he came to the apartment. He rang the doorbell, and a little boy about seven years old answered the door. He looked at Father O'Kelly's clerical collar and the sacks of groceries, and then screamed at his mother: "Mama, Mama, come quick. Jesus brought us some food!"

In telling about that incident, Sean said, "I will never forget that child's comment. At that moment, I realized that I was the Christ for a hungry child."

If we are to be the neighbors that God calls us to be, then we need to understand that you and I are expected to help those we have the capacity to help. The opportunities for service are almost endless in every neighborhood - even yours. There are a dozen ways or more for you to help people if you are willing to be the neighbor God calls you to be! Religion in a nutshell means that you really are expected to be "Jesus" to your neighbors when they are in need.

Robert L. Allen,

 By loving the unlovable, You made me lovable.

Augustine to God


11) It All Started with 10 Commandments 

In a cartoon, Frank and Ernest are standing in front of row after row of shelves of books. On top of one of the shelves is a sign, which reads, "Law Library." Franks turns and says to Ernest: "It's frightening when you think that we started out with just Ten Commandments."  

It is sort of frightening isn't it? We started out with 10 and now we have an estimated 35 million laws on the books in the United States alone. Some of them are very good and deeply needed. But there are some that probably need to be repealed.  

For example: Did you know there is a law in Florida that makes it illegal for a woman who's single, divorced or widowed to parachute out of a plane on Sunday afternoon? 

In Amarillo, Texas, it is against the law to take a bath on the main street during banking hours...
12) The child’s commandments:   

A Sunday school teacher was talking to a class of five- and six-year-olds about the Ten Commandments. "Can you give me a Commandment with only four words?" she asked. "I know," said a little girl: "Keep off the grass." The discussion turned to family love and the teacher brought in the Commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother." Then she asked, "What about a Commandment that tells us how to treat our brothers and sisters?" A little boy who had five brothers and sisters was quick to answer: "I know," he said, "You shall not kill." When the class ended, two of the boys began to poke each other. The teacher intervened saying, "Didn't we just finish talking about the Golden Rule?" to which one of the little combatants replied, "Yes but he did it unto me first." 

13) No God, no potatoes!  

A few years ago, on a routine visit to a Soviet collective farm, a Russian commissar demanded of one of the laborers in the fields: "How was the crop this  year?" "Oh, we had a fantastic harvest -- many, many potatoes. So many potatoes, in fact, that if you piled them up to the sky, they would reach the foot of God!" The commissar scolded, "There is no God, comrade." The laborer retorted, "There aren't any potatoes either." [Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, in Imprimis 20, (December, 1991).] 

14) Faith in the one and only God and trust in several stars:

Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby reports of Canadians, "Eighty-eight percent know their astrological signs, with half of the entire population reading their horoscopes at least once a month, outnumbering Bible readers by two to one." [Reported in Martin E. Marty, Context (1 November 1993).] Wouldn't it be great if 88% of the people were starting their day with the Word of God, not the alignment of the stars? 

15)  Love your neighbor as you love yourself:  

Three men were sailing together in the Pacific Ocean. Their vessel was wrecked and they found themselves on an island. They had plenty of food, but their existence was in every way different from what their lives had been in the past. The men were walking by the seashore one day after they had been there for some months and found an ancient lantern. One man picked it up. As he began to rub it and clean it, a genie popped out and said, "Well, since you have been good enough to release me, I will give each of you one wish." The first man said, "Oh, that's perfectly marvelous. I'm a cattleman from Wyoming and I wish I were back on my ranch." Poof! He was back on his ranch. The second man said, "Well, I'm a stockbroker from New York, and I wish that I were back in Manhattan." Poof! He was back in Manhattan with his papers, his telephones, his clients and his computers. The third fellow was somewhat more relaxed about life and actually had rather enjoyed life there on the island. He said, "Well, I am quite happy here. I just wish my two friends were back." Poof! Poof! (Everybody's idea of a "great time" isn't the same).