Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Deuteronomy is the source of the first reading this weekend. One among the first five books of the Bible, Deuteronomy contains for Jews the basic rule of life, as it is the basic revelation of God about life.
Moses is central in these books. He led the Hebrews from Egypt, where they had been enslaved and oppressed, and guided them across the stark Sinai Peninsula to the Promised Land. He led them not because they had chosen him, or because he somehow had assumed the role of leadership, but rather because God commissioned him.
Not only did Moses lead the people to their own land, the land God had promised them and reserved for them, but Moses also taught them how to live according to God’s law.
Again, the teachings of Moses were not merely the thoughts of Moses himself, but the very words of God conveyed to humanity by Moses. In this reading, Moses, speaking for God, reveals the central reality of existence. God, the creator, is everything. Moses, still speaking for God, further reveals that God is one. God is a person.
For its second reading, the Church offers us a selection from the Epistle to the Hebrews.
The loveliest and most powerful symbols and understandings of God and virtue in the ancient Hebrew tradition gleam in the verses of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The exact circumstances of its composition are unknown, but obviously it was first intended for an audience very aware of the traditions and beliefs of Judaism at the time of Jesus.
For the ancient Jews, from the time that Aaron, the brother of Moses, served as high priest, the central figure in Jewish society was the high priest. The high priest’s role extended far beyond officiating at religious ceremonies. He represented God. He also spoke for the people in acknowledging God as supreme.
This epistle sees Jesus as the great, eternal high priest. While the memory of Caiaphas, and other high priests, was less than lustrous among Jews of the time of Jesus, because they allowed themselves to be tools of the Roman oppressors, the great high priest envisioned by Hebrews is holy and perfect.
Jesus is the great high priest of Calvary. As a human, the Lord represented all humanity. As God, the sacrifice of Jesus was perfect.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. A scribe, an expert in Jewish religion, asked Jesus to capsulate the Commandments. It was an understandable question. Jewish law, all seen as emanating from God, had 613 precepts!
In responding, Jesus drew upon two divine statutes well-known to the audience: one from Deuteronomy, the other from Leviticus. This technique situated the Lord in the tradition of revelation and defined that Jesus was no imposter. He was God’s spokesman.
The Church is moving forward to the feast of Christ the King, celebrated only a few weeks hence. In this feast, the Church will conclude its year and close its yearlong lesson, given to us in part on each of the 52 Sundays when we hear God’s Word and pray.
As it approaches this end of the year, the Church, a good teacher, summarizes its teachings. This is the summary: God is everything. Departing from God, disobeying God, brings chaos and doom. God guides us to life, as God guided the Hebrews to freedom.
He sent Jesus as our teacher and leader, as once Moses came to the Hebrews. The teachings of Jesus are simple but profound: Love God above everything, and love others as self.
In the Gospel reading, the common word is “love.” It is instructive in and of itself. If God is love, and if true disciples live by God’s law, then they will love God and all others.
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