Nov. 4, 2018

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018

HEAR, O ISRAEL!”

Readings: 1st- Deut. 6:2-6; 2nd- Heb. 7:23-28; Gospel- Mk. 12:28-34

The first reading and the gospel of today have great connections. Two things immediately stand out: The challenge to “LOVE” and to “HEAR!” In the first reading, Moses reminds the Israelites of the covenant relationship with God. The commandments of God are meant to be kept all the days of their lives. The Israelites are to observe them in order to prosper and grow in the land given to them by God. The mandate is to reciprocate God’s love since he has already shown the depth of his love by bringing them out of slavery and protecting them from their enemies. Hence, in return they are to love the Lord with full commitment. Only God (monotheism) shall they love and no other. But how can they keep God’s commandments? The key word is to “hear” what God has to say. The word “hear” is used strongly in those two verses; “Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them” (Deut. 6:3), and “Hear, O Israel!” (Deut. 6:4). Moses invites the people to hear (a word in Hebrew that means sema) that the one and only God should take precedence in their lives. They must love the Lord with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their strength. They are to take those words to heart, that’s what it means to hear.

The gospel presents the encounter between Christ and the Scribe. The young man puts a question to Jesus about which is the greatest commandment. Jesus’ first reaction is to refer him to the Old Testament passage which should be familiar to him as a Jew; “Hear, O Israel! The Lord your God is one Lord”. That’s the starting point. You can only know the Lord’s commandments when you hear them. In this case, Christ calls the young man’s attention to the main subject of the Christian life: Love of God your Creator and love of your neighbor as yourself. These are the greatest commandments.

While reflecting on this gospel passage, I notice the reaction of the young man while Jesus speaks to him. He is attentive. He recapitulates every word that Christ says using exactly Christ’s words. His approach is called “active listening and reflection.” That’s a strong skill which could be useful in every relationship. The Scribe tells Christ after listening, “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.” The Bible narrates that, “when Jesus saw that he answered with “understanding”, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” To answer with understanding means to able to listen. This young man is able to understand the words of Jesus and to take them in. He pays attention to Jesus’ words. 

Listening and hearing play a key role to our understanding of God’s will in our lives. They are necessary ingredients in every relationship including our relationship with God. Saint Paul calls our minds to the role of understanding when he says, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:8-9). But how can we believe and be saved? Paul goes further to tell us, “But it is in that way faith comes, from hearing, and that means hearing the word of Christ” (Rom.10:17). The young man who comes to Jesus listens and understands that to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength implies listening to God when he speaks. Listening to Jesus deepens his understanding of what he knows at the time.

How about loving your neighbor as yourself? Don’t we need listen to our neighbors? Let’s start right from our relationships. How many of us listen to our spouses, children, parents, and friends? How many of us listen actively without always attempting to complete the other person’s sentences when they speak to us? How can you hear the neighbor when she/he speaks? Practice what the Scribe does with Jesus; reflect back the person’s statements to him/her. It looks simple but it is an act that gives the other person the impression of your presence, undivided attention and compassion. Listening is an act of love. Say back those words to the individual. See if you can capture them as they’re said. Tell her, “I heard you say...”, “You are right in saying...”, I understand you to mean...” Try it in your relationships, don’t just jump in to say what you think or what is in your head. We need a society that listens. We need leaders that listen. We need politicians that listen. We need employers that listen. We need pastors and ministers that listen. We need lawyers that listen. We need teachers that listen. We need nurses that and doctors that listen. We need husbands/wives that listen. We need friends that listen. The more we listen, the more we love. On the contrary, the more you jump in to finish the statement for your wife, husband, friend, colleague, employer, employee, etc., the less the person feels heard, and the less appreciated.

My challenge for all of us today is a simple one. Scripture tells us today, “Listen/Hear O Israel! Can you suffix your name for Israel and say, “Listen O Vincent! Listen O Janet! Listen O Andrea!” Maybe you have not been listening, but you didn’t know that. That’s what I want you to do. Go home and listen to what your husband/wife, friend or your neighbor is telling you. First, hear what God tells you. Pay attention when he speaks. Sit and listen. Hear him and understand his will for you. The second is to listen to your neighbor as yourself. Find out what she/he needs. Reflect back to her/him and be sure you hear well. Show compassion. Show presence. Show support. Show empathy. Show love. The Psalm says, “I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly” (Ps. 85:8). The best way to show love is to listen. Let’s go home and listen. Through listening we get to the heart of the one who speaks.