To say the least, the Scribes and Pharisees are not well-regarded in the pages of the New Testament. They were often seen as petty, legalistic, jealous of their prerogatives, and they were bested when they try to engage Jesus in debate, usually to the delight of the crowds. They are also among those who plotted Jesus’ demise, or so they thought. Other than that, they were a pretty good bunch of fellows!
How refreshing, then, to meet a scribe who was on the right track, a expert in the law of whom Jesus approved. Even so, we may be puzzled by the question he put to Jesus: “Which is the first and the greatest of all the commandments?” After all, the Scribe had to know how Jesus would respond, he had to know Jesus would recite the words that sum up the law and the prophets, the very passage found in today’s Scripture readings:
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart the words which I enjoin on you today” (Deut. 2:6).
Nor was the scribe surprised to hear Jesus say that the second great commandment is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This too is at the heart of the Law and the Prophets.
II. What Was New in This Encounter?
We may ask what was new about this encounter between the scribe and Jesus. What did the scribe say that prompted Jesus say of him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God?” hat new insight do we need to learn from this encounter so that we also might not be far from the Kingdom of God but indeed its protagonists in the world of today?
The passage itself from Deuteronomy was not new but that passage on the lips of Jesus, the love of God incarnate, is new. The “newness” in this exchange is not so much the ideas that were shared but rather, as Pope Benedict XVI teaches, “the figure of Christ himself who gives flesh and blood to these concepts … ” As today’s reading from Hebrews indicates, Jesus stood before the scribe as the great high priest, the Son of God took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Spirit. In our Gospel passage the Scribe encounters this high priest who entered human history, to offer himself to the Father for our redemption, … what St. John calls “…love to the very end … ” Yes, Jesus came into the world to love us with the very same love with which he loved the Father from all eternity.
In the truth of that love, we can understand why Jesus so readily approved of the further comment the scribe made: “To love God with all your heart and with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices … ” The entirety of Jesus’ life was a sacrifice of love, a total gift of self to the Father and to us, a sacrificial love which in the Eucharist we experience and encounter in signs perceptible to the senses. This should awaken in us a feeling of joy that is more than a passing sentiment but a deep, foundational conviction of faith that engages our mind and our will. That is why the command to love God with all our mind and heart and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves is not a mere rule, and certainly not a formula for earning our own salvation – but rather a response of love to the God who loved us first and best in Christ Jesus.
III. First Principle of the Order
This Sunday’s readings and this holy liturgy we are celebrating bring us to the source of the first principle of the Order, namely, charity. How important that we be renewed in this principle as we enter more and more deeply into the Year of Faith and seek to be agents of the New Evangelization in the context of our times. In a day when more and more people are falling prey to a loveless secularism, a secularism that permits everything and forgives nothing, a hardened culture where power and money count more than truth and mercy, we, the family of the Knights of Columbus must engage in a charity that evangelizes.
This is a phrase first coined by Blessed John Paul II and employed by Pope Benedict, a phrase often used by the Worthy Supreme Knight and also by your Chaplain. “But how are we to understand it?” we might ask. I would suggest that an evangelizing charity has two aspects:
First it requires of us a heart that is young, whatever age one might be chronologically, that is to say, a heart that is capable of encountering Christ anew, a heart that is capable of continually being surprised by the Gospel – by the depth of its wisdom and the power of its love – and by the Person who is the Gospel, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. When we pray and repent of our sins, enter deeply into the Eucharist, and study the teachings of the Church, the capacity of our hearts is enlarged to receive the love of God poured forth by the Holy Spirit. That is how we come to see all that the Church believes and teaches not as a burden, but as words of spirit and life, as the answer to life’s most pressing questions.
And second, as Jesus, love incarnate, is allowed to touch and transform our souls, then something happens to the quality of the charity that we are called to practice. The programs may be the same – coats for kids, food for families, wheelchairs for veterans, Tootsie Roll drives helping young people with special needs, pancake breakfasts and fish fries to support local K of C charities … the list goes on … The programs of charity may be the same but as faith opens up our hearts more and more widely to receive God’s love, these programs become visible signs of God’s love at work in our midst and living invitations for those who perhaps have not experienced that love to open their hearts to the only love that gives life its fullest meaning. Indeed, our acts of charity become not only living signs of Christ’s love but also a profession of faith in Christ’s love by which human dignity is fully revealed and restored, and hope of eternal salvation is kindled. As Pope Benedict puts it succinctly: “love of neighbor is a path that leads to encounter with God … ” (DCE, no. 16).
IV. Conclusion – Man Cannot Live Without Love
At the beginning of his pontificate, Blessed John Paul II wrote these words: “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being incomprehensible to himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” (RH, no. 10).
May it always be said of our beloved Order that we are not only the strong right arm of the Church but even more so, partners with our Holy Father and the Bishops in constructing a new apologetics for the Gospel of Christ ever ancient and ever new, an apologetics that hinges on charity – the charity of God which we always experience in faith as mercy and the love of God and neighbor which God’s prior love for us in Christ Jesus brings to fruition.
May God bless us and keep us in his love!