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Bulletin: October 31, 2021

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s First Reading, from Deuteronomy, we hear the great summary of the very core of God’s covenant with Israel, its title taken from its opening word, the Shema (“Hear!”). The Shema is at once a doctrinal summary of Israel’s faith and the personal/corporate prayer of Israel’s sons and daughters. To this day, devout Jews inscribe the Shema on parchment and enclose it in the mezuzah that adorns the doorways of so many Jewish homes. The residents kiss the mezuzah, and thus the Word of God, upon entering their homes and when going forth from them into a world that often acknowledges neither God nor the covenant. Recited several times daily, Deuteronomy’s “formula” comes alive as a vivid reminder to devout Jews that their personal relationship with God is both source and safeguard of their public identity as members of God’s chosen people.


Today’s Gospel shows Jesus as fully part of Israel’s covenant tradition: he responds to the scribe’s question by proclaiming Deuteronomy’s Shema which both of them would have reverenced and recited since childhood: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5). But note the “editorial changes” both Jesus and the scribe make to the Shema. To Deuteronomy’s heart, the Biblical seat of the will and affections, and soul, the deepest part of the human person, and strength, encompassing both physical ability and material treasure, Jesus adds “with all your mind,” a phrase the scribe changes to “with all your understanding” (Mark 12:30, 33). Perhaps Mark, the author of today’s Gospel, wanted to consecrate to the kingdom’s service the philosophical reflection and intellectual exploration so valued by the Greco-Roman world—and our world—in which the Gospel would be preached.


Jesus makes a further change to Israel’s Shema: to the Deuteronomy text Jesus adds Leviticus 19:18: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” For Jesus, these commandments cannot be separated. The scribe, delighted at Jesus’ answer, goes on to indicate that he has grasped one of the central tenets of Jesus’ kingdom: ritual worship and practical charity toward one’s neighbor are twin expressions of love for God. This insight places the scribe “not far from the kingdom of God,” says Jesus (Mark 12:34). But is “not far” close enough? For the scribe, as for the rich would-be disciple from a few Sundays ago, as for each of us, it is one thing to know what we ought to do and quite another actually to do it. So, then: what about us? How do we live out, in daily practice, the covenant whose words we know so well, but whose deeds we so often find a challenge?

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