I’ve heard a few people say in just the last month alone, and many times in past years, that just when it looked like a priest was finished with his homily, he would start another story. And I empathize with the good People of God sitting in the pews regarding this issue. I used to sit out there. And over my lifetime I can honestly say that there were a few priests who didn’t know how to, what we say in preaching, “land the plane.” They would circle the airport again and again when the air traffic controller was telling them to land, giving the impression the homily was about to finish, and then go back to another story, not landing the plane. I try not to do that from this side of the liturgy.
The great part about priests who don’t know how to fly a plane is that they still provide a holy meal, called the Eucharist. Whereas the length and style of their preaching may exasperate listeners, their capacity to feed us in the second part of the liturgy is never diminished, thanks to God’s power that comes through ordination.
Jesus is asked a question, a very important question for all of us in today’s Gospel: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” And without hesitation, our Lord proceeds to answer through the holy words of his sermon… This prayer called The Shema that goes back to Moses and a wandering people in the desert as we heard proclaimed in the first reading.
The Jewish prayer begins with, “Hear, O Israel.” Remember, Jesus came for the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but would extend his love and miraculous powers to non-Israelites (Gentiles) who professed faith in him. These Gentiles could move God’s mountain with a mustard seed of faith in him. But our Lord here speaks to Israel, the ones who recognize the words he is about speak further. The Jewish people know The Shema the way Catholics know the Our Father and Hail Mary.
Jesus continues his sermon; “The Lord our God is Lord alone.” A message that remains relevant in the 21st century, and for centuries to come. Don’t create any false gods in the world of our lives. We know many of them; money, power, sexuality, which is a false god for many people today. The list is long, because the temptation to worship idols is long and ever-present.
Contrarily, when the Lord is God alone for us, we see the world and its inhabitants in a Godly way. Through the eyes of holiness and dignity, through the eyes of compassion and mercy, through the eyes of faith. The Lord is God alone sets us on a path to healthy relationships, to good works of ministry, knowing we serve him in serving others. The Lord is God alone is the train that rides us to the great promises of Jesus Christ, which are many.
And then Jesus continues his sermon to the question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart,” placing him at the center of the ticker within all of us. Not just a portion of our hearts, like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday like a college course. Or, not dropping the ball on our heartfelt love for him from Friday night to Monday morning when the Evil One is working overtime to penetrate our free time, trying to transfer some portion of our love for God to his hatred for us. Rather, love him with all our heart, being nothing less than a forerunner for heaven itself.
And Jesus continues his short sermon; “With all your soul,” we are to love him. The invisible part of us. Love God with our conscience.
If I were to ask, “What is your conscience?” I bet most people would say, “It’s what I feel.” And I would say, “That’s not what it is. Our conscience is not simplified or relegated to feelings and emotions.” Our conscience is the deepest part of our being. Conscience goes as deep as we can travel within when addressing an issue. If I say, “Yea, I support the death penalty because that’s how I feel,” without taking into account all that our faith teaches us, and praying about it for a long period of time, that’s miles away from our conscience. Conscience is deep, and it takes time to arrive to arrive there. Loving God with all your soul is deep, and it takes time to arrive there.
And the sermon continues; “Love God with all your mind.” Think of the great things of heaven in the midst of a twisted generation, and what’s been prepared for us. If we could capture in our minds a small portion of what God has prepared for us, our heads would explode, but in the best of ways.
And the homily of Jesus comes to an end; “Love God with all your strength.” This has nothing to do with physical strength, like only muscle heads can love God greatly with their strength. Most of us, I suspect, are not muscle heads. I’m not. You don’t look like you are. Jesus means that whatever strength we have internally, strength of will and desire, love Him above all. This is why people in wheelchairs and the homebound can love God with all their strength much greater than those who pump iron at the gym five days a week.
And there’s Jesus’ homily for this Sunday. Oh, wait! There’s a second story from Jesus. He doesn’t want to land the plane yet. Sorry. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we love ourselves for the way God created us, the type of love that will see ourselves with respect, dignity, humility, grace, with dependence upon Him, then we will love our neighbor too. Loving others is dependent upon a healthy Christian love of ourselves. Not a conceited love, but a humble love, like Christ has given to us.
That’s really the end, I think. Just one more. Love God, love yourself, and please do your best to love your neighbor. It’s worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Since I’m sick of listening to myself, this plane has now landed.