Homily OUTLINE for 11.4.12
MARK 12:28B-34 (see below)
The Lectionary Gospel reading for today brings us to what may be called the first principles, or the foundational and axiomatic truth upon which the faith once delivered to the saints builds its reality.
After a series of controversial questions posed to Jesus, all designed to trip him up, an unnamed Scribe asks Jesus a different question, one perhaps from an honest and seeking heart:
"Which is the first of all the commandments?"To which Jesus replies:
"The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!This Scribe immediately sees the wisdom of Jesus understanding:
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."
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."I think Jesus sees this man’s honesty, and his willingness to think beyond the usual and accepted line of religious thinking, so Jesus responds:
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."What can this story hold for us today? More than one homily can hope to plumb that is for sure. For today’s word, then, I want us to briefly focus on what may be called a practical aspect of the text, or just how we who claim to be on the Jesus-way can be truly known -- both to ourselves and to the watching world -- as those who practice Jesus-way living?
Said differently, if we are to love GOD and our neighbor, what does this mean, and how do we know we are actually practicing this love, and not just talking about it?
SEEKING GOD FOR HIS OWN SAKE
First, then, we ask just what it means to love GOD. I like what William Lane writes in his commentary on St. Mark’s Gospel:
“To love God in the way defined by the great commandment is to seek God for his own sake, to have pleasure in him and to strive impulsively after him.”This tells us that to love GOD is to pursue the LORD for the LORD himself and not for what we can receive from the bargain. But, you see, in this transaction filled culture of ours, chasing after something for nothing is hardly on the radar. We have been so well-taught that we come to GOD for what we can receive -- my salvation, my ticket to heaven, my healing -- that we miss the first principles. That is, what GOD wants for us in pursuing him and finding him is the absolute pleasure of a mutually fulfilling relationship.
Now, even as I say these words they stick on my tongue. Why would the Almighty want anything to do with us? If we are honest about ourselves and our heart of hearts, we must admit we are not fit company for our neighbor, let alone GOD. This means we must never forget the reality that GOD loves us because GOD loves us, the reason is in GOD and not in us.
Anyway, the writer of the Book of Hebrews put it this way:
So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (Hb.11:6)Now, this might seem to undermine my point until we ask just what is the reward of those who seek the LORD. And the answer is, we find Him! We must first, seek GOD for his own sake, and this pursuit, which involves a lifetime becomes our life work. And, if we are willing to do this daily and with discipline, we find him, and that discovery changes everything.
Or, think of it this way. To pursue GOD is not to pursue the white whale, who hides from us and only comes out to devour us. Instead, to pursue and to find pleasure in GOD is to ultimately find the path of true humanity and humanness. To discover GOD is to find in our heart of hearts the meaning of life and the foundation for a truly meaningful life. Which is another way to say, to seek GOD for his own sake is to find yourself as well, and who you truly are to be.
But, this all still seems a bit pie in the sky, doesn't it? So, how can we seek “God for his own sake, have pleasure in him and strive impulsively after him”? What are the practices that help us seek the LORD and to love him?
SEEKING GOD THE OLD FASHIONED WAY
To love GOD with our heart, soul, mind and strength means we seek him, and to seek him is to practice:
-- The Fear of the LORD
-- The Focus of the LORD
-- The Love of the LORD
The Fear of the LORD
To Love the LORD is to fear the LORD, but the fear of the LORD is not to cower in the corner and to shiver in revulsion. Now, to be sure, there are moments some have described when the “Numinous” (Rudolf Otto) brings us to the feeling of dread and awe-full-ness, but this reverential awe is not the normal meaning of the fear of the LORD. No, to fear the LORD is to take GOD seriously. And the only way we know we are taking GOD seriously is when we obey, literally obey, his word to us. Jesus said it this way:
“If you love me, obey my commandments.”And the poet in Psalm 34, which we would do you well to pursue in meditation (many have found it to be so) wrote:
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Ps.34:11-14)
The Focus of the LORD
To love the LORD is also to focus our lives on the LORD, which is another word for prayer. I do not know if it is possible to “seek God for his own sake, to have pleasure in him and to strive impulsively after him” apart from prayer, but I doubt it.
Prayer is the life-blood of this relationship and this love of GOD. The distractions and allurements of this life are too many. We chase and pursue and make gods of those things and people that cannot but drag us down and devour our souls. And these idols we worship enslave us to that which is no god. Prayer, and the on-going pursuit of a disciplined and daily prayer-practice, is the only path that allows our heart affection to gravitate toward the LORD.
True Prayer is the one connection with the Almighty that allows the life of GOD to flow into our wounded hearts and to bring healing of the true inner-self. But, this is not why we pray. True Prayer, this clearing off space in our lives for GOD, means our focus actually moves away from ourselves and our wants to GOD and his purpose and his love for us and the world. True prayer practiced over time causes the life of GOD to shape us and conform us to the image of the one truly human being -- Jesus Christ (Rm.8:29). True prayer as it does its work moves us out of the prayer rooms and into the hell-holes and heart ghettos of the world, where daily we enact GOD’s love.
The Love of the LORD
Which leads us, finally, to pursue the love of the LORD, by which I mean the love the LORD has for his good world now marred by selfishness and sin and violence and hate. What we must understand is that to love the LORD means we love like the LORD. Jesus said it this way:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.That is, to truly love the LORD means we practice his love toward the world, which for us means the neighbor in front of us, for how will the world, found in my neighbor, know that GOD loves them if we who are his hands and feet, eyes and ears, heart and mind do not display that love through sacrifice and reconciliation?
This love, this sacrificial love wrapped in reconciliation is not found in the gentile and the pretty settings. No, it is bloody and difficult; it is to see the brutal and the hateful in full force. It is to be robbed of all expectations and illusions and to still love. There is no romance here, only the pursuit of GOD’s will and word in a world that has turned its back upon humanness and the notion of final judgment.
Remember: In a world without GOD all things are permitted. With our choices for evil we sear our consciouses, we destroy the knowledge of GOD and we upend our ability to distinguish right from wrong or good from evil. And, it is in this world that, if they worship god at all, they worship gods who are vengeful and hateful and willing to kill all who differ. It is to this world that we are sent. For, how are they to know of the reality of the cross apart from those who are willing to deny themselves, take up that same cross and follow the ways of the truly human savior, the paths of reconciliation and sacrificial love?
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
"Which is the first of all the commandments?"
Jesus replied, "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."
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
'He is One and there is no other than he.'
And 'to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.