Sunday, November 4, 2012

There’s a story about a young man who approached Rabbi Shammai ~ a contemporary of Jesus ~ and promised to convert to Judaism if Shammai could teach him the Torah while the young man stood on one foot.  Shammai then smacked this young man with a stick he was holding.  “This is impossible!”
The man then when to Rabbi Hillel offering the same challenge.  The rabbi said: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.  This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.  Now, go and learn it.”  Shortly afterward, the young man converted to Judaism.
Synthesizing the Torah wasn't unusual.  There are 613 laws in the Torah representing the 365 prohibition s given to Moses corresponding to the days of the year, and 248 positive commandments corresponding to the bones of a human body.  It was eventually taught that it could all be reduced to: do right and keep justice.
In the gospel, Jesus receives such a challenge and responds to the young man… “You are not far from the Kingdom of God…”
Moses tells the Israelites, “Hear O Israel.  The lord is our God, the lord alone!  Therefore you shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. Take to heart these words.”  
“Keep repeating them to your children.  Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.  Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”
The scribe who asked Jesus “Which is the first of all the commandments?” wondered if Jesus was truly Jewish.  Any observant Jew would know the answer to that question… and would also commit to learning about God’s teachings, and teach this law to children and speak of the Torah whenever possible.
Jesus adds to the familiar formula with a second mandate… you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Clearly this scribe didn't know Jesus well.  He replied, “Well said, teacher.  You are right.”  Here is Jesus… the only begotten son of God, born of the father before all ages.  God from God.  Light from light, true God from true God… begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.”  This scribe congratulates him on being right!
Jesus, is always compassionate and isn't provoked by the scribe.  When the scribe answered with understanding, Jesus said to him… “you are not far from the Kingdom of God” and no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God…”  Wouldn't it be great to hear Jesus speak those words to each of us?  We know there will be a time for us to stand before God… saints among saints in the halls of Heaven.
Watching and waiting for the second coming, we do well to remember Pope St. Leo the Great who observed that whatever was visible in Christ has passed over to the sacraments.  Here is what we saw in Christ… inclusion for the isolated, light for those in darkness, food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, balm for the afflicted, healing for the sick, sight for the blind, and new life for the dead.
When we begin to understand the great promise to which we are called, even the greatest challenges in our lives can't obscure our vision.  We look to be enfolded in God’s love, praying that we will know this reality.  The Holy Spirit challenges our hearts and minds to accept this vision.  Our faith then brings the love of God to light the entire world through our words and works.
You are not far from the Kingdom of God…. Its as near as the person next to you.  It’s in the humble awareness that our forgiveness is measured on how we treat and forgive others.
In Deuteronomy, Moses implores the people of Israel that they will still need God now that they have arrived in the Promised Land.  They will need God as much as they did in the desert.  This is Moses’ last wish for his people. 
Teilhard de Chardin wrote of this need for God: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, we will discover fire.”

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