CENTERED IN LOVE – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 26, Year B; Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

October 31, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
Ruth 1:1-18 or Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 146 or Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Deuteronomy 6:2-6
Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51 (2)
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 12:28b-34

Soon after my husband and I had moved into our home a few years ago, we noticed small acrylic cases fastened to the frames of the front and back doors. We came to realize that the Jewish family who had lived there before us had affixed on each doorway a mezuzah, a small piece of parchment placed inside a protective case. The texts written on that parchment, from Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, instruct God’s people to “write [these words] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Dt 6:9).

The first words recorded in the mezuzah—and heard in today’s readings from Deuteronomy and Mark—are known as the Shema Israel (Dt 6:4-9) and constitute the core creed of Judaism. This text is so important that it is recited by Jews twice daily, forming the centerpiece of both morning and evening prayer. These are words to be prayed, spoken about, passed on, worn, posted on doorways—but even more, to be the focus and guide for one’s entire life. The Shema Israel not only proclaims a sure faith in one God, but also expresses the intimate relationship between the Holy One and the people who are chosen and called to live in a covenant of love.

Jesus cites the Shema Israel in today’s Gospel story, which takes place after he had entered Jerusalem in triumph, had forcefully disrupted commercial activity at the Temple, and engaged in a long and contentious dispute with Jerusalem’s religious leaders. A scribe happened by and heard how Jesus had confounded his adversaries on every point. His question and the tone of his comments seem to flow from admiration.

In response to the scribe’s question, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mk 12:28), Jesus responds, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (12:30). He not only quotes the Shema Israel but goes on to include a second commandment also drawn from the Torah: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31, Lev 19:18).

In bringing together the Torah’s commands to love God and neighbor, Jesus draws on the deep tradition of Judaism. He likewise offers an indirect critique of Jerusalem’s religious establishment—a critique which the scribe makes explicit with his observation that keeping the two great commandments “is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (12:33).

Jesus’ answer to the scribe’s question suggests that a life centered on love of God will by necessity include love of neighbor. For those of us who promote congregational singing, communal worship, and other religious practices, today’s readings offer a word of caution. Our singing and praying can be authentic religious expressions only if they flow from lives of care for others, especially the poor, neglected, and marginalized.

When Ray and I moved last year, we debated whether or not to take the mezuzoth to our new home. Since the Jewish family before us had left them, we decided to do the same—allowing those who came after us to discover this daily reminder of how God is calling us to center our lives.

A Hymn for Today: “The Lord Is God”

Presbyterian pastor and hymn writer David Gambrell has created this paraphrase of the Shema Israel, which appears in Glory to God, the most recent official hymnal of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The Lord is God, the Lord alone!
Give honor, thanks, and praise
to God, the maker of all things
and giver of our days.

With all your heart, with all your soul,
with all your mind and might,
O people, love the Lord, your God,
the source of truth and light.

At night or day, at home, away,
together and apart,
O children, take these holy words
and keep them in your heart.

The Lord is God, the Lord alone!
Give honor, thanks, and praise
to God, the maker of all things
and giver of our days.

Text: David Gambrell, 2011, © 2011 David Gambrell, admin. Presbyterian Publishing Corp. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Caritas, stained glass, Glasgow Cathedral, William Wilson, 1

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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