March 8, 2002 – Friday of the 3rd Week of Lent
Monastery of Makkiyad, Kerala, India
Let us listen carefully to Jesus' words when he is asked what is the first of all the commandments. He answers : "This is the first: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! " What Jesus is saying is that the first and the greatest of all the commandments is to "hear", to "listen" to the Lord. This is also the first word of the Rule of Saint Benedict : "Listen…"
To listen is the same thing as to obey, and obedience is the most perfect form of love, since it is the love in which one does not expect anything is return. Obedience is love for the sake of love. "The Lord our God is Lord alone! Therefore – says Jesus -- you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."
We are invited to love the Lord, not in order to receive something from Him, but simply because He has loved us first. And nobody in the Bible has spoken of God's love towards His people with such tenderness as the prophet Hoseah did. The first reading of this Mass, which was taken precisely from the book of Hoseah, is a call to conversion based on the awareness of the merciful love of God. Here again we find something parallel to this text in the first verses of the Rule of Benedict, where Benedict describes the monastic journey as a returning, through obedience, to the Lord from Whom we have departed through disobedience.
To those who will return to him Yahweh promises non only mercy but fullness of life and prosperity. He will love them and will be for them life dew from heaven, so that they will blossom like the lily, they will strike roots like the Lebanon cedar, and dwell in his shade. Those are not rewards for love, but pure gifts from our Father.
At the end of that beautiful text from Hoseah there is something both intriguing and beautiful, about the ways of the Lord. The paths of the Lord, says Hoseah, are straight. In the same paths the just walk and the sinners stumble. The path that the Lords lay before us is always the same. Whether we walk in it or we stumble depends on us. Let us all asks for the grace always to walk straight in the path of the Lord.
READING I Hos 14, 2-10.
Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the Lord;
Say to him, "Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, 'Our god,'
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion."
I will heal their defection,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again they shall dwell in his shade
and raise grain;
They shall blossom like the vine
and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols?
I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
"I am like a verdant cypress tree" --
Because of me you bear fruit!
Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.
Straight are the paths of the Lord,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them.
GOSPEL Mk 12, 28-34
One of the scribes came up to Jesus and asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" Jesus replied: "This is the first:
'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!
Therefore you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.'
This is the second,
'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
There is no other commandment greater than these." The scribe said to him: "Excellent, Teacher! you are right in saying, 'He is the One, there is no other than he.' Yes, 'to love him with all our heart, with all our thoughts and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves' is worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice." Jesus approved the insight of this answer and told him, "You are not far from the reign of God." And no one had the courage to ask him any more questions.