By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 4th November , 2018
Preached at St Ninians & St Chads Parish, Perth
St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mt Lawley
Today’s first reading contains the words of the Jewish Schema, “Hear O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord.” This is the first prayer taught to Jewish children and is to be recited by every Jew in the morning and evening. It is a confession of faith in the one God and what the response to him must be, namely that faithful Jews must love God in a sincere, strong, superlative and intelligent entire love.
This commandment is accepted by Jesus as the first and great commandment, for it unites love and obedience to God which is pivotal to a life of faith. It is certainly not the first and great commandment in the Western world because God is denied, sidelined or deemed to be irrelevant for many in our culture. In the western world an individual is not measured by how much he or she loves God, and those who try to do so must hold on to the belief that it is the one thing that lifts human life out of the mire of self-serving and self-loathing.
Jesus had been in a heated discussion with the scribes and Pharisees about paying taxes to Caesar and whether there is such a thing as the resurrection of the dead. Following this, a single scribe approached him and in a more measured way asked Jesus his opinion on a matter that was often discussed among the Jewish rabbis, namely whether there was one law that formed the basis for all the rest. Jesus answered him by quoting the Scriptures that we heard for our first reading. The scribe agreed that loving God was more valuable than any amount of animal sacrifices. Yet Jesus goes further and adds a second commandment which flows from the first. If God is one and to be loved by the whole of oneself, then other human beings are of equal value to oneself – no more and no less.
All human beings are the same – only God is different. The discussions between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees took place in the Temple in the days before Jesus’ crucifixion. In tune with the prophets before him, Jesus criticises the offering of sacrifices that are mechanistic, empty in the sense that they do elicit a response of love and obedience from those who offer them.
In recording this encounter, Mark is delivering the final blow to the Temple system and its empty sacrifices. Mark is saying that the death of Jesus will achieve what these animal sacrifices were intended to do but failed to do. His sacrifice will make all further sacrifice unnecessary.
The epistle to the Hebrews points out that the Jewish High Priests who offered the sacrifices died and had to be replaced. In contrast, Jesus the High Priest offered himself as a holy, blameless, unstained sacrifice. The only sacrifice that can save us is that of Christ, and it is that sacrifice that Christian priests and people re-present in every mass. We cannot repeat Jesus’ sacrifice in the mass, the priest and faithful enter into the sacrifice that Jesus offered, in the here and now. God is beyond time and so in the mass we enter into the sacrifice of Calvary and are able receive the love, mercy and forgiveness of God offered to us there. The response he hopes for is that we will love him with all our heart, mind, soul and body, and love others in the same way and to the same degree that we love ourselves. God’s love won our salvation, what greater thing can we pray and work for than for our salvation and that of others. Every time you receive the Eucharistic Sacrament, thank God for his love of you and respond to him by making an expression of love for him. Only then can you live that love in the world.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.