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IN OTHER WORDS

KEEP THE FIRE BURNING
June 3, 2020
MENTORING
June 5, 2020

Homily for Thursday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time, 4 June 2020, Mk 12:28-34

If Jesus had enemies who asked him questions in order to trap him or use his words against him, he also encountered people who he thought were enemies at the outset, but were not. There were also those who asked him sincere questions that were genuinely interested in the truth.
Sometimes we don’t realize how labeling people affects our perceptions of them—the way people in the United States label each other as Republicans or Democrats, or some Filipinos label each other as Dilawan or DDS. Labeling can close our minds to each other. It can prevent us from seeing anything good at all in other people.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus affirms someone who is called a Teacher of the Law, most likely a Pharisee, who asks him a question and gets an answer. He takes the answer to heart, processes it in his mind, and then repeats it in his own words and even adds his own thoughts to it.
There are people who sometimes pay me compliments for my homilies and ask me if they could share them. I usually answer and say, “Thanks for your kind words, but I am just a messenger. It matters to me that you got the message. Yes, you may share them. There is no copyright to the Word of God; it is really meant to be shared.“
But of course how you share them also speaks a lot about you. The easiest way to share in the social media is to just click the share button. Some would make the extra effort of copying the link and sending it to certain individuals. Others would copy and paste the whole message, exactly as it was said. That’s not bad. But there is no assurance that the sharer actually read the message in full and now wants to share it because he understood and appreciated it. I remember receiving a forwarded message that seemed like a simple pro-life article at the outset but was really a vicious attack on Pope Francis. He was surprised when I asked what he had against the Pope. He said nothing. I said, but why did you share that article to me? Obviously, he did not even read it.
In my college years, I remember we were taught that there are different ways of referring to other people’s ideas. One is, you can quote them directly and cite your source, or two, is, you can paraphrase what the person is saying—meaning, put it in your own words, and still cite the source. The second option takes more effort, but it also makes for better learning.
I often notice that students nowadays use gadgets when listening to lectures. Some of them do an audio or a video-recording of the whole lecture. Others take a shot of the slides projected by the lecturer or even ask for a copy of the PPT file. I wonder sometimes if they are really listening or if they have left the listening to the gadgets.
If they have, I wonder if they realize that they are actually delaying the learning process that way because they have to replay it all over again. It remains unprocessed. Nothing beats the value of the old fashioned note-taking. You listen carefully to what the teacher is saying but you do not necessarily write everything word for word. You follow the presentation, process it in your thoughts, put it in your own words, abbreviate it using equivalent words and note down key ideas. In essence, you captured the thought, but your teacher is more impressed when, instead of giving it back word for word as in a quiz, you make an attempt to paraphrase it. It means you made an effort to digest it and own it.
The teacher of the law asked Jesus just one question. “Which is the first of all the commandments?“ But he got, not one but two answers. The Two Loves. The first is quite well known to all Jews; they’re supposed to recite it from rote memory at the age of 13 (Coming of age). It is a quotation from Deut. 6:4-5. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” The second is from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (I remember the late Cardinal Sin calling them the two lines of the cross: the vertical and the horizontal.)
I think the lawyer who posed the question was struck that Jesus had to add a second commandment. He knows that the commandments were written on two stone tablets of the law: on the one hand, those that have to do with the love of God and, on the other hand, those about love of neighbor. And what better way is there to explain that the foundation of the commandments is a relationship, COVENANT, in which love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable?
You see, we can get lost in religion’s many doctrines. We can easily turn pharisaical, legalistic or even fundamentalistic about them. We can get so fixated on the formulation the we become narrow-minded. Some people even invoke DURA LEX SED LEX (The law is hard but such is the law.), forgetting how arbitrarily selective we tend to be when we invoke it. It is always important to get to the essence of it. Jesus pinned it all to LOVE: LOVE OF GOD ABOVE ALL, and LOVE OF NEIGHBOR AS ONESELF. You will rarely find people of other faiths who will disagree with that, if they are operating from basic good will.
St. Paul says in our first reading, THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT CHAINED. It is not bound permanently to fixed words. It can be paraphrased and put in other words, as long as the essence of the spirit is there. Sometimes you listen to a guru, or an evangelical pastor, or a Muslim Ulama explain some basic principles in their faith lucidly and you find yourself nodding and saying, yes, you are right. And it need not mean you are converting to their faith. You are amazed that you also hear the Word of God in essence from people of other faiths as well. This is not about relativism; it is rather about the power of God’s Word. It is not chained, as St. Paul tells us.
Like Jesus, when you see basic good will and an openness to the truth, when you perceive a basic desire to get to the meat of faith and its relevance to us in real life, you feel like saying as Jesus did to the Teacher of the Law, YOU ARE NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
I have met many people of other faith communities or Christians of other traditions or denominations who are not in our company but are not far from the kingdom of God. In fact, some of them are probably nearer to it than I am, or than some presumed insiders might be.
If, as Jesus says, love of God above all, and love of neighbor as oneself are far more essential than burnt offerings or sacrifice, or far more necessary than any religious obligation, then shouldn’t we be disposed at all times to see God’s bush burning even in the most unlikely places. Shouldn’t we, at each time, be ready to remove the sandals from our feet because we stand on holy ground?

 

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