Daily Readings Reflection for 8/20/10

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Reflection on Today’s Daily Readings by Fr. Bertrand Buby, SM

Today’s Readings

Scripture: Aug.20. Lectionary 423. Ezekiel 37:1-14. Psalm
107:2-3.4-5.6-7.8-9  Matthew 22:34-40.

Jesus is being asked which commandment of the Torah is the greatest. He is
a master at answering such questions and often gives the person who is
asking the question a new way of looking at what he has asked. His
interpretations of the laws of the Torah do not take away anything from
their authority and inspired obligation upon the believer who has made a
covenant with God.  In the same Gospel Jesus already has informed us that
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law (Torah) and the prophets.
I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.Of this much I assure
you:until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the law,
not the smallest part of a letter, shall be done away with until it all
comes true.” (Matthew 5:17-18).

Today he replies in rabbinic and prophetic fashion by showing that actually
not one is the greatest, but two commandments!  This is a principle in
interpretation at that time by increasing and going beyond what seems self
evident.  It reminds us of some of the sayings in the Psalms and especially
in the prophets where one says for the following three things I will punish
so and so. Then it names four things!  Or for “the following three
abominations….” a given oppressing nation will be subject to God’s wrath,
then it names four things. Emphasis and overstatement are part of the
Semitic flavor of the Gospels and certainly of the Prophets.  This type of
writing and speaking forces us to think deeper than our first impression
leads us to think or judge.

The Scriptures were so important in the history of the people who followed
them, the Jews and the Christians, that this was a large part not only of
their education but also of their learning how to speak and to write. This
was a great resource, a library of information for many people at that time
who believed in God and those who followed and believed in Jesus.  The
Bible was the only educational book they were familiar with and it became
part of their learning how to read, write, and to speak. They relied for
their own patterns of speech on these inspired scrolls and books of the Old
and New Testament.  Jesus himself was very creative with how he interpreted
these sacred words and how he respected them as the living word of God.
Yet, his own distinct contribution through sayings, parables, images were
new applications. No wonder he could add to what the question posed was all
about.

Jesus cites the commandment of loving God in this manner from the book of
Deuteronomy: “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with
your whole soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first
commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as
yourself.On these two commandments the whole law is based, and the prophets
as well.” Both Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 are brought together
into one commandment of love!  The citation from Leviticus is “Love  your
neighbor as yourself.” Like Jesus the great wisdom figure Akiva says this
is “a basic principle in the Torah.” And when Hillel was asked by a gentile
to summarize the Torah in one sentence, he offered a version of this: “What
is distasteful to you, don’t do to another person. The rest is commentary;
now go study the commentary.” (BT Shabat. 31a).

This passage is of interest to those who have entered into dialogue in
Christian-Jewish gatherings. It leads to some interesting insights on both
sides of the dialogue.  Usually the interpretation is new and helpful just
as Jesus does with it in the above incident recorded by Matthew.  God’s
word thus is kept alive not only in synagogues and churches but also in the
mutual exchange of each person with another. As we read in a Jewish
commentary: “We learn to love God by practicing loving God’s creatures, our
fellow human beings.”Love the Lord your God” commands not belief but
behavior. Act in such a way as to make God beloved in the eyes of those who
know you.”  (Etz Hayim, p.1025). Amen.

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