31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Vinner)
LOVE: THE SACRIFICE OF THE NEW COVENANT
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today, the thirty first Sunday of ordinary time, the church continues to lead us to Christ, the eternal high priest of the new covenant. The basis of this new covenant is the sacrifice of love. Christ offered this sacrifice which gave perfect glory to the Father. So, as His followers (Christians), He calls and expects us to offer this same sacrifice.
In our first reading, Moses, reminds us that being faithful to God and his commandments is the best way to prosperity and eternal life. He concludes with the famous call known in Hebrew as Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel)! It is the centerpiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer. Also, it forms parts of some Christian prayers.
As a Jew, Christ himself prayed this same prayer. So, he uses these same words in today’s gospel. It is both a call and reminder of the unity and greatness of our God. Hence, it is a call to be faithful to God through the sacrifice of love. To obey God, is to love Him!
The second reading is a continuation of the discourse on the eternal priesthood of Christ. The letter to the Hebrews contrasts the priesthood of Christ with that of the Old Testament. In obedience to the will of his Father, Christ offered the greatest sacrifice of love with his own life. It was necessary for Him to die, in order to save us (1 John 2:2; Heb 10: 10.14).
However, the major difference is that, the priesthood of the old covenant was terminated and conquered by death. On the contrary, Christ defeated and conquered death through his resurrection and ascension into heaven. There, he remains our eternal high priest.
By obeying the father’s will, Christ remained holy and innocent. He not only loved the father, but he loved us. “Greater love has no one than this: To lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
In the today’s gospel, Christ summarized the Ten Commandments into two. With the same words used by Moses, He repeated the same call in our first reading: “Hear, O Israel! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul…” Then, he amplified it by adding: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Very important!
Without downplaying or denying the priority of the first commandment, humanly speaking, I think the second is very difficult. If we can obey the second, then we can, and have indeed obeyed the first. This is because, God lives in our neighbor. We cannot hate or do harm to our neighbor for any reason, and still claim we love God, or his commandments.
Unfortunately, due to the natural human instinct of self-preservation, pride and Selfishness, (the “ego” or “I”), it seems practically impossible to love neither God, nor our neighbor. However, Christ is not asking us to do what He could not do. He overcame all these enemies of love. Any Christian who overcomes these enemies, will love sincerely.
The good news is that Christ knows it is possible. If it were not so, He would not have commanded us to love. So, to love God and our neighbor as our self, is a “debt” we owe, and must pay (Rom 13: 8). It is the sacrifice of the new covenant, which the new people of God, and indeed, every “born again” child of God must offer.
Finally, this may not necessarily mean, dying on the cross as Christ did, but it could be demonstrated through small, but concrete gestures like a sincere smile, good words, and charity. It may not only mean doing something extraordinary, but also, doing something simple. So, like Christ our eternal high priest, when we offer this sacrifice and debt of love that gives perfect glory to God, we can sing with psalmist: “I love you, Lord, my strength.”
FR. S.Vinner HGN