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31st Sunday Ordinary Time: “What is Most Essential?”

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31st Sunday Ordinary Time:  “What is Most Essential?”  

Priests receive some interesting gifts.  One time I received this curious silver tube.  I did not know what it was until I did some research.  I found out it was a Mezzuzah.  And it could be a symbol for our readings today.

            In the Gospel of Mark, in the 12th chapter there a whole series of debates that Jesus has with the Scribes and Pharisees.  The learned religious leaders try to trip up the backwoods Rabbi from Galilee about the fine points of Jewish Theology.  Some how they try to discredit him.  The Pharisees ask him whether the people who pay taxes to the Roman government as they try to lead him into to trouble with the government or to diminish his standing with the poor people of Israel.  Next, they ask him his opinion about the resurrection, something that was a controversial teaching in Jewish circles.  Finally, they ask him what the greatest commandment is.

            Now this was a common debate among religious leaders when Jesus lived.  The Jewish law was long and complex.  So, summarizing it all simply for people was thought to be a good thing to do.  Hillel the famous rabbi was asked one time how to sum up the law.  And it was requested that a saying be offered that one could recite while standing on one leg.  In other words, it should be short and pithy.  Hillel said the whole law can be summed up in this, “Do not do to the neighbor what is hateful to you.”

            Jesus is asked this question.  He does what he often did. He answers a question with a question.  “Well, what would you say,” Jesus responds.  The scribe answers with the most basic of all Jewish prayers, the Shema.  The prayer with which every Jew was supposed to begin their day and end their day.  “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is Lord alone. You are to love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul.”  Jesus added the injunction, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus and the Scribe agree that this was the heart of the law.

            If we go back to Deuteronomy chapter 6 we hear a further injunction to the Israelites.  You are to drill these words into your children.  You are to bind them to your wrist.  You are to wear them has a pendant on your forehead. Jews will, at times, wear Phylacteries which are little boxes that they tie to their wrists and heads. In the boxes are the words of Shema. To do this, is to take the words of Deuteronomy literally.  To do so, is to say, “I will always focus on these words when I pray.”

            Another thing that is said in scripture is that the Shema should be written on the doorposts of every Jewish house.  And that is where the Mezzuzah comes in. The words of the Shema are to be written on one side of a parchment.  The word Shaddai is to be written on the other, a word that means God Almighty.  The paper is to be rolled up, placed in the tube and the container is nailed to the door frame.  Every time a pious Jew enters or leaves their house they gaze upon the Mezzuzah.  Maybe they touch it to remind them the law of love governs their interaction with others in their home and in the street.

            Love is not just a passionate feeling, but it is also a conscious choice.  We choose to love our spouse when they do things that are not so lovable.  We choose to love our children when they are disobedient.  We choose to love our friends when they may offend us.  Love demands charity.  Love requires forgiving repeatedly.  Love is a matter of hope.  Love revolves around living out our faith in practical day to day ways.

On Tuesday we have an election day.  Often people have asked, “Can my faith guide my political choices?”  The answer is yes.  We are like the Jews in that the choices we make are made very complicated by all the voices we hear the, the lies we must sort out, the moral vast sea of moral questions that we are confronted with.  Today, we might ask Jesus what is the moral imperative that I am to follow as I approach voting.

            Jesus would say what he said in the gospel.  Love God.  Love your neighbor. He would probably also add, love your enemy.  Do we enter the voting booth with fear in our hearts for our economic welfare?  Are we threatened by what we have been told about races or religions that are different than our own?  Is that what guides our choices.  Or do we love all of humanity?  Do we hope in our God?

            Perhaps a Mezzuzah should be attached to the entrance of every voting booth.  So, when go in the vote and when we come out we may keep what is most essential to our decision making in mind, the law of love.