31st Sunday in Ordinary Time


One night, Tim was walking home when, all of a sudden, a thief jumps him!   Tim and the thief begin to wrestle.  They roll around on the ground and Tim puts up a tremendous fight.  However, despite his efforts, the thief manages to get the better of him and pins him to the ground.  The thief then goes through Tim’s pockets.   But all the thief could find was twenty five cents in Tim’s pockets.

Surprised by this, the thief asks Tim, “Why did you put up such a fight for a measly 25 cents in your pants pocket?”

“Oh, is that all you wanted?” replied Tim.  “I thought you were after the five hundred dollars I have folded up in my sock!”

Yes, sometimes, the only way to find something really valuable is to wrestle for it!   That’s what the Lord’s inviting us to do this weekend!  He’s inviting us to wrestle with his word and to dare to unearth what it truly means for the way we live our lives!  In the Hebrew tradition, the call to wrestle is prayed twice a day:  once in the morning and once in the evening!   It’s the prayer every observant Jews hopes will be their final words on earth, before they pass away.

It goes like this:  (sing it) “Shema, Y’Israel, Adonai Elohainu, Adonai ehad!”

Translated, it means,  Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!

In fact, the word Israel means “the one who wrestles with God.”   So the Shema can also be translated as “Hear, O one who wrestles with God,  the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”    So the wrestling match that God dares every Jew, every Christian, and every Muslim to participate in each day, is a wrestling match between ourselves and God!  It’s a match that dares us to listen to the Lord’s divine Word and to fully absorb its significance for our lives.  It’s a match that dares us to get over being so full of ourselves, of our own needs, wants, and desires.   It’s a match that challenges and dares us not to become so fixated on our own little bubbles that we forget to consider the wider perspective of how our actions may impact others and whether our actions are truly in synch with the divine plan that God has for our lives on earth.  We may have a lot to say to God at times, but how often do we truly take the time to listen, to really listen to God’s response to us in his Word and in our hearts?  That’s why the Shema begins with the word, ‘HEAR!’

The Shema continues by daring us to see our spiritual lives in relation to one another.   God is OUR God!  He belongs with US and WE belong with him!  No other gods will do! Sometimes, we wrestle with that too, don’t we?   We may put our own conveniences ahead of God.  We may put our own schedules of leisure events ahead of God.  We may put our quest for financial stability ahead of God.   We may put our personal needs for privacy ahead of God.  Whenever we put anything or anyone ahead of God, we’ve made that person or thing more important than God, godself,  in effect making it our god.

We know when this happens too, because our spiritual lives quickly become side-tracked or off kilter.  We start becoming angry, irritable, discouraged or depressed.  We start to feel alone, unwanted, abandoned and afraid.  That’s because we weren’t meant to go it alone in life, without God!  The Lord is our God!   He’s revealed himself to us!  He longs for a deep down life-giving relationship with each of us!

What’s more, the plural form reminds us that we’re not in this alone!   We’re dared by God to be accountable to one another.   We know this interdependence is necessary for the proper functioning of society and the church. And we all know the damage being divided can do to both.   Just look at the divisions between Vaxxers and Anti-Vaxxers.   The Shema dares us to cease such divisions and to work together when things get rough, like in this current pandemic.   We’re being dared to support one another when the chips are down and to never give up believing that God’s with us!

The Shema further dares us to see the unity in God.   God is one!   This reinforces that we can’t divide our allegiance between God and something else.   No, God demands our complete, and total and unconditional loyalty, love and surrender.   Hockey can’t compete.   Golf can’t compete.   Shopping can’t compete.  Making lots of money can’t compete.  Our careers can’t compete.  Our spouses and families can’t compete.  There’s only one slot in the number one position in our lives and that slot is slated for God alone!

Interestingly, when we dare to make God number one in our lives and stop vying for time and attention from lesser gods, we find that the other parts of our lives start to improve.   We find we’re more focussed, more appreciative, kinder, gentler, more attentive to the good things and persons whom God has placed in our lives to help us to flourish.  We find too, that we start to see ourselves, not as some slave to a corporation, business or institution, but as servants of God who are dared by God to bring Good News everywhere and to everyone whom the Lord places along our life’s path at any given moment.

The Shema continues with the dare to “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 key word in this passage is ALL.    We’re never going to reach the sort of love that God asks of us in this life.  There’s always room for growth; there’s always room for expansion; there’s always something more we can do for God and for God’s greater glory.  Once we’ve listened to the Lord and have made his voice directive in our lives, then we’re being dared to go one step further and to make the connection between listening and loving, real and tangible, for others to see and experience.

That’s the connection Jesus makes in our Gospel for today.   Love’s not so much of an emotion in the scriptures as it is a deliberate decision to act in a way that our lives are in concert with the example of Jesus, whose own love for us is limitless.   Jesus’ response of the Shema to the scribe wouldn’t have been a shocker to anyone at all, at the time.

Indeed, the scribe would have expected such an answer from every Jew.   What’s unique about Jesus’ response is that he links the great summons to love God with what was regarded as a minor passage of scripture, a light law, so to speak— to love one’s neighbor as oneself.   Jesus dares the scribes, the pharisees, and all of us, to give the two commands of love, equal standing.  We can’t say that we love God, then, if we don’t also love the people whom God has created.  We can’t say that we love God then, if we don’t recognize, in the most unlikely of persons, something of the divine.

The scribe in the story is impressed by Jesus’ insight and acknowledges the truth of the linkage.   The acceptance of this profound connection leads Jesus to tell him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

It’s then that Mark records,  “After that, no one dared to ask Jesus any question!”    Why do you think that is?  Perhaps because they were afraid of exploring what such a love might require of them.    Perhaps they were afraid of exploring the limits that we humans sometimes place on our giving and receiving love, too.  Maybe they couldn’t yet grasp the effects which God’s unconditional love would have on their lives and how such an outpouring of God’s love upon them would change them irrevocably   Whatever their motives, they certainly received the message that the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ  can be condensed into the simple act of loving God and loving others as oneself!   If we don’t get that right, nothing else we do in the name of God really matters.    If we don’t strive to integrate the command to love into our daily walk, then our witness to others will be only half-hearted at best and our effectiveness as intentional missionary disciples will be curtailed.  It’s a game of Truth or Dare!   Jesus dares us today and every day to live by these great commands of love and to let that love be the foundation of our lives.

To Download please click below.