Gospel Reflection for Oct. 31, 2021, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Over the past month we have been challenged by various Gospel events as to how to live our lives as faithful disciples of Jesus. We have seen various episodes emerge in the ministry of Jesus where different individuals have approached Jesus seeking to follow him, to reign with him, and to find healing from him. Each one of those moments from the ministry of Jesus has challenged us to think about our lives of faith in new ways.

This weekend we get one more question posed to Jesus concerning what is regarded as the greatest of the Commandments. Jesus, now being questioned by a scholar of the Law, responds first as would any faithful Jew: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” But then, in a manner that we have grown accustomed to with Jesus, he takes the conversation to another level as he adds: “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The conversation between Jesus and this scholar of the Mosaic Law stands as the only time when Jesus is treated almost as a pupil and is quizzed on his knowledge of the Law. Yet, the question that this scholar poses is the most basic of all questions, one that would likely be answered by any Jew of the time in the same way. By adding the Second Commandment to the conversation, Jesus connects the two aspects of law together. The love of God flows into love of neighbor, and love of neighbor finds its ultimate meaning in our primary love for God.

One of the great tensions that is at work within the Church over the course of her history is that between those who are drawn to contemplation and prayer as their primary expression of faith, and those prefer to see social justice and the enfranchisement of the marginalized as the key to living the Gospel.

So often, with our time and our resources we see this as out of balance. Some argue that beautiful churches are a waste of money and we should spend the money instead on the poor. God, they argue doesn’t need a gilt church building but the poor need bread. Others see the beautiful buildings as seeds of evangelization and an expression of the use of our artistic talent and financial resources to praise God in all his glory.

Both arguments make sense, have their merit, and have dominated the conversation for many generations. It would seem that Jesus places a definitive sense of that balance in our life of faith, but noting that first and foremost that all we are and have first comes from God, and that we are called, indeed obligated, to make a return to the Lord for his goodness to us.

This call to love God with all that we have and are is not only the core of the Jewish tradition, but clearly stands as the ultimate source of Christian discipleship.

Perhaps this aspect of discipleship is the most difficult to grasp. In one way we take this for granted – we all assume that we love God. And, as with any love, over time it seems to become so engrained in us that we lose sight of its intensity and take it for granted. We certainly also experience this with love of neighbor. So, in a sense we must continually work on our relationship with God – through prayer and sacrifice – so that we can authentically love our neighbor.

When we lack glorification of God as the primary focus of our lives, and certainly on our work on behalf of the Church and in service to the Gospel, we run the risk of ultimately serving, there by aggrandizing ourselves instead.

All that we do and are must flow from our covenantal relationship with God. Our love for our neighbor – whether among our intimates or the stranger in our midst – must be borne from our love of God. When the love of God with the totality of our being is our motivation, then our egos move out of the way, our desire to be recognized is diminished, and the reality of becoming transparent on behalf of the Gospel takes hold of our lives.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.