Fr. Michael Schleupner shared the following homily last Sunday and it’s a wonderful example of the Gospel lesson. Let’s read about a hero from history and Jesus’ lesson of love.
Gospel Reading: Mark 12:28b-34
Doing What God Demanded
In the 1820s, a woman named Harriet Tubman was born here in Maryland. She was born into an enslaved family, and she herself was a slave. But, she became a hero.
Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery and then helped many others to do the same. She continued to work after the Civil War to improve the lives especially of the elderly and of women.
Once, as she was growing older (she died in 1913) she was asked about what she did. Her response was simple. She said: “It was nothing special. It was just doing what God demanded.”
What Faith Demands
Harriet Turman’s comment about what she did leads me to the question: what does faith in God demand? What does your or my faith demand of us?
I think we all know that everything in life makes demands. If we want to graduate from high school or college, we’ve got to study and get passing grades.
If we want to succeed in a business or at our job, we’ve got to work hard. I think our Scripture readings today say that faith demands a lifestyle of love.
The context of today’s gospel is that many religious leaders of Jesus’ day tried to legally define God’s demands. They counted up the religious laws and clung to all 613 of them in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, while they did this, many of them were missing the demands of true faith or a real relationship with God.
So, in that context, one of the religious leaders asks Jesus: “What is the first of all the commandments?” And Jesus’ response is pivotal. It is a pivotal moment in Jesus’ mission and for the entire Christian tradition. He quotes a commandment that is in one of the books of the Old Testament – we heard this in our first reading – and then he adds a second commandment from another book. In effect, Jesus makes the two commandments into one. He binds together love of God, love of others, and love of self.
“Love the Lord your God”
Jesus begins: “The first commandment is this: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Jesus knows that this commandment is sacred to his fellow Jews. They may wear what we might call a medal or scapular with these words inscribed on it.
So, the first demand of faith is a lifestyle ordered around God. It is making a commitment to God with our whole being. Faith demands that we make God a priority in all that we do. Jesus wants us to be passionate and personal about our faith.
“Love your neighbor”
Then Jesus adds: “You shall love your neighbor.”
Faith demands that we are not just self-focused. It is not just a God-and-me or a Jesus-and-me thing.
I think we can look at it this way. If “God is love,” as the New Testament says, then we need to allow God or love flow through us. We need to be thinking: what is the loving thing I can do in responding to my spouse or in correcting my child or in dealing with my anger toward someone? How can what I do be constructive and not destructive, be life-promoting and not life-diminishing?
Finally, Jesus teaches: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So, faith even demands that we realize our own dignity as God’s sons and daughters. It demands that we rest in the awareness that we are special and valuable in God’s eyes.
And with that, faith demands that we take care of ourselves. We don’t have to feel guilty about taking some time to read or pray or workout or watch a game. We don’t have to feel guilty about going out for an evening together without the kids. We are loved by God and we need to have appropriate love and care for ourselves also.
So, Harriet Tubman saw it clearly and simply.
As she says, she only did what God demanded. Today the Scripture is equally clear about what faith demands, and now it is up to each one of us to apply this in our own lives.
~ Fr. Michael Schleupner