Tag Archives: Deuteronomy

We Are Our Neighbors’ Keepers

“We Are Our Neighbors’ Keepers”
Mark 9:42-48 in a couplet
Sunday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

Mark 9:42-48

By the use of hyperbole, hearers are shaken out of complacency concerning their actions and influence on others. The dominant images for sin in Scripture are an arrow or stone “missing the mark” or a “wandering” from the right path.

The Hebrew word for sin, chatta’ah, is derived from the verb chata, “to miss the mark, target or way.”

The Greek word for sin, hamartanó, means “to miss the mark.” 

Over and over again in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israelites are commanded by God to “walk in his ways” (Deuteronomy 8:6). To stray from the path is to choose death rather than life (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Those who cause others to stumble (skandalizó) put snares in the path of the vulnerable and cause them “to fall into a trap” (Mark 9:42). 

Sin cripples self and others. Love leads neighbors to life and shalom. 

The Greatest Commandment

Shema Yisrael at the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem
(Licensed by Rabanus Flavus under CC-BY-SA-3.0)

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

Mark 12:28-34

Most of the encounters between Jesus and the teachers of the Law in the Gospels were confrontational and combative, but in this passage we meet an unusually thoughtful and spiritually mature son of Israel. 

One of the scribes who had been listening to Jesus asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The first part of Jesus’ response was familiar to every Jew from the cradle—the Shema (Hear!) began every synagogue service and was the pillar of Judaism. Found in Deuteronomy (6:4-9; 11:13-21) and Numbers (15:37-41), over time the command to “bind them” to the hand, between the eyes, and on doorposts and gates was taken literally and evolved into the phylacteries which Jesus condemned (Matthew 23:5). 

The second part came from Leviticus 19:18. All of the minute rules and regulations of Jewish law were summed up in these two precepts—love of God and love of neighbor, or simply, love, for the two are inseparable.

The scribe found a kindred spirit in Jesus and spontaneously responded: “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

This remarkable scholar probably spent a lot of time meditating on the essence of the Law contained in Prophets like Samuel: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the Lord’s command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, to listen, better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). In passages like these, the highest wisdom of Judaism is contained. All external works and sacrifices find their fulfillment in the inner temple of the heart.

The scribe received a tremendous gift that day in hearing from Love Incarnate himself, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” 

Jesus’ face, body, hands, voice and entire demeanor radiated wisdom and kindness. People listening to him were captivated: “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

-GMC

Moses and the Quest for God

Moses

120 years old. That’s how old Moses was when he died, according to the Book of Deuteronomy, which we’re reading today at Mass.

Biblical exaggeration we wonder? Maybe. Yet scientists said recently life expectation in our society might be heading to 120 in the future, so perhaps we need to look at Moses a little more closely. Our society is aging.

The 4th century Cappadocian mystic, Gregory of Nyssa, in his classic study “The Life of Moses” considers Moses, not mainly as a leader of the Israelites, but rather as a example of the way God calls all of us. His life shows us our way to God.

Gregory divides the life of Moses’ 120 years into 3 parts. The first part of his life (Exodus 2, 1-15) is marked by dangers. Pharaoh has decreed that all Jewish new born boys be killed, but Moses is taken by his mother after his birth and placed in the river in a little boat ( the word for Moses’ boat in Exodus is the same word used in Genesis for Noah’s ark) In the river of life, Moses is protected by God and has a mission to fulfill. We too have been placed in the river of life, in God’s boat as it were, and have a mission to fulfill.

Adopted and brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses enjoys the gifts of Egypt. Like him, we’ve been given many gifts in life. We have to use them well, wherever they come from. Gregory writes. That’s a way to make the journey.

Moses’ first forty years end with the killing of the Egyptian and his subsequent flight to the desert of Midian. Choosing to stand with his own people Moses chooses to stand with God. In life we’re constantly called to make this same crucial choice. If we wish to see the face of God, we must choose it.

The next forty years Moses spends in solitude in the mountains of Midian where he lives a simple virtuous life, which prepares him to meet God in the burning bush. Then, at eighty years, he’s sent on to the next stage of his life: leading his people through the desert to the promised land.

Eighty years old– hardly a good time to begin such a momentous task. But Gregory of Nyssa sees Moses’ life as an inward journey, rather than an outward one. This is more than an historical journey. It’s a journey that doesn’t stop, defying age and the circumstances of life. One is never too old, or too young, for this inner journey. Gregory describes it beautifully in “The Life of Moses.”

“…the great Moses, becoming ever greater, never stopped his ascent, never set a limit to his upward course. Once setting his foot on the ladder that God set up (as Jacob says) he continually climbed to the step above and never ceased to rise higher, because there was always a step higher than the one he attained…though lifted up through such lofty experiences, he’s still unsatisfied in his desire for more. He still thirsts for what seems beyond his capacity… beseeching God to appear to him, not according to his capacity, but according to God’s true being.

“Such an experience seems to me to belong to the soul who loves the beautiful. Hope always draws the soul from the beauty that’s seen to what ‘s beyond; it always kindles the desire for what’s hidden from what’s now known. Boldly requesting to go up the mountain of desires the soul asks to enjoy Beauty, not in mirrors, or reflections, but face to face. “ (Gregory of Nyssa)

In his final instructions to his people before his death, Moses does not offer words of human advice gathered from his years. He leaves no memoirs, no recollections. God will be with his people as God was with him. Beyond land or treasures of human conquest, they will see the face of God.