Sunday Sermon for November 4, 2012, the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Dt 6:2-6; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28b-34

In the Gospel reading today we hear about a Scribe coming to Jesus and asking Him about which of the commandments of the Lord is the first or of most importance. We have all heard hundreds of times the response our Lord gives: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. He adds to this the second of all the commandments which is to love your neighbor as yourself.

The Scribe shows good insight when he responds to our Lord that to love God completely is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Anyone can go through the motions of something without putting their heart into what they are doing. But one cannot love without engaging the heart. Even to offer sacrifice properly requires that one do so in love rather than doing it because we are commanded to do so.

Our Lord did this perfectly when, as we read in the second reading, He offered Himself. He is the sacrifice offered in perfect love for His Father and He offered it in perfect love for us so that our sins could be forgiven, our souls could be restored to Grace, and the opportunity for eternal life would be held out to us. The act of love Jesus offered was perfect because there was nothing selfish in it.

It is obvious that if one is offering sacrifice there is a cost. For the people of Israel it may have cost them a lamb or some money to but the animals for sacrifice. However, a person could certainly make this offering grudgingly or in a way that skirts the requirements of the law. For instance, in Israel they sometimes tried to offer sacrifice to the Lord that was imperfect: lambs that were blind, lame or diseased. We recall in the story of the widow’s mite that the poor woman gave from her want, not from her surplus; our Lord said she had given more that the wealthy people who had given from their excess.

In our Lord’s case His sacrifice was given in love and there can be no excess in love. There can, however, be paucity or frugality in love. We could say that there is a ratio of love and selfishness. If we look at the whole of an act, it consists of the sum of the love and the selfishness involved. Hence, an act that is seventy percent love is, therefore, thirty percent selfish. What Jesus did was to act in pure love and He has given us the example to follow so that we can work at rooting out the selfishness.

Jesus also teaches us that we can never say that we have loved enough. His love is infinite and He gave it all, even though a much smaller portion might have been sufficient to accomplish the salvation of the world. He would not do this because He wanted to give everything to His Father and He wanted us to know how loveable we are and how much dignity we have by experiencing this kind of love. God is love and every person is created in His image and likeness, so acting according to our dignity, we also want to strive to love with our whole heart and mind and soul.

Sometimes we take God’s love, as well as the love of others for granted. In our day, people often do not even consider love because they are too caught up in what they are going to get out of something. There have always been people like this, but in a self-centered society like ours the problem is epidemic.

In His wisdom the Lord knew how weak and selfish we would be, so He even had Moses explain that if we follow the commandments of the Lord we will grow and prosper. Selfish and dishonest people see growth and prosperity only in terms of money, but we need to learn to see it spiritually as well. Regardless, if we love, good things will come to us; if we do not love, evil will befall us.

I know that we can all point to many cases where it appears to be just the opposite: the just suffer and the unjust live easy lives. The suffering of the just, however, purifies them and makes them able to love with greater perfection; thus, the suffering is a great good for the person. For those in love with themselves and their money, tragedy awaits them as they follow the example of the one who rejected love and seeks only himself. Therefore, loving as we were commanded can glorify God, help our neighbor, be an example to those who do not love, and bring us to the Promised Land.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit