Friday of the third week of Lent
1st Reading: Hosea 14:2-10
How God supports those who trust in Him
Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him,
“Take away all guilt; accept that which is good,
and we will offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”
I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things;
those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.
Responsorial: from Psalm 81
R./: I am the Lord your God: listen to my voice
An unfamiliar speech I hear:
I relieved his shoulder of the burden;
his hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you. (R./)
Unseen, I answered you in thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear, my people, and I will admonish you;
O Israel, will you not hear me? (R./)
There shall be no strange god among you
nor shall you worship any alien god.
I, the Lord, am your God
who led you forth from the land of Egypt. (R./)
If only my people would hear me,
and Israel walk in my ways,
I would feed them with the best of wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would fill them. (R./)
Gospel: Mark 12:28-34
Jesus endorses love as the greatest commandment
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other;’ and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself,’ .. this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
The Great Commandment
Our holy Scriptures call us to a positive holiness that is more than the avoidance of sin. The prophet Hosea appeals to his people to “return to the Lord, your God” as to a loving partner. Then, in today’s Gospel, our love for God and love for our neighbour are closely interlinked. This desire for God is an active response, not a theoretical notion. Rather than indulging in theological argument, the people should reach out with practical, compassionate love to others, in God’s name.
Hosea and Jesus both echo the familiar language of the Jewish liturgy. Our liturgy here on earth should reflect the beauty and peace of God. According to Hosea the dew of heaven rests upon Israel; just as we still invoke God’s Spirit to bless our Eucharist like the dewfall. Jesus says “Amen” to this anticipation of the life to come: “You are not far from the kingdom of God,” he says. If we live by the great commandment of love, that kingdom is where we are all meant to be.
The scribes (or teachers of the law) are generally shown arguing with Jesus. But the scribe in today’s Gospel is an exception. Jesus totally approves this man’s outlook and assures him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” They were in full agreement about the two great commandments of the Law. The first calls us to love God with all our might, and the second to love our neighbour as ourselves. The interplay of those two loves is the vital point.
It’s worth noting how the two great commandments differ about the intensity of love required. Only God is to be loved with ALL our heart and soul, our mind and strength. It is to God alone that our total love is due. The is the essence of adoration, and it is our highest human faculty.
But to love God in this way necessarily involves us with God’s love for humanity and leads to the second commandment. All of our human brothers and sisters are made in the image and likeness of God. And therefore, active regard for and love of our neighbour is where the pure and total love of God invariably leads us.