28Mar 28th March. Friday in Week 3 of Lent

1) Hosea 14:2-10

(Those who are wise understand how, in the face of all worries, God supports those who trust in Him.)

Take words with you and return to the Lord; say to him, “Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; we will say no more, “Our God,” to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”
I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom like the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things; those who are discerning know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.

Gospel: Mark 12:28-34

(In response to a lawyer’s honest question, Jesus explains his basic principles of love.)

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,” and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself,” — this is much more important that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

“All You Need Is Love”

Half a century ago, the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love” sounded a flippant expression of the sex-charged mores in that era. Seen in a more positive light, the slogan can sum up the Gospel attitude towards morality. In a classic book on spirituality, Dom Eugene Boylan characterised Jesus as “This Tremendous Lover.” Love is the most precious and powerful quality in a human life, the value that outlasts all others (1 Cor 13) ; 50 central, indeed, that it best describes God himself: God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God (1 Jn 4:16.)

“Complex,” “authoritarian,” “slow to adapt to changing human insights,” are phrases that are often used about our institutional Catholic church. Most refreshingly, our present pope Francis has urged us frankly to realise that the whole point of the Church’s existence is all about love, really, and that our doors are always open to those who seek love and forgiveness. While he may not have made any significant institutional changes as yet, he has used some evocative symbols (like the pastor who carries the smell of the sheep) and shown some lifestyle options (like driving his own modest car, and living in a hostel with other priests) which incarnate his vision of a more fraternal, compassionate church.

What is religion really about? For Jesus it seems to be this: The eternal, Father-God has loved us into being, and wants us to grow like Him–to love in our turn, unconditionally, with all our heart and strength. Jesus quotes Moses for the first half of his reply to the lawyer’s question, but he adds part two: the daily application–loving the people right next door. This is the Church’s real task, to love that next-door neighbour, and indeed all others, without exception. It’s the very soul of Gospel living, and it’s why we need our Eucharistic food regularly, to strengthen us for the task.

“Which is the greatest commandment?” was such a good question to ask of Jesus. Some rule of thumb was required in the Jewish tradition. Under a system of many laws and regulations, even the most earnest person would fail sometimes to keep them all. So it was vital to distinguish the main duties from purely trivial matters. In answer, Jesus combined the two highest commands of the Old Testament and gave them new force by relating them so closely to each other. There is no genuine love of God without love for our neighbour; and there can be no sustained love of neighbour without an underlying love for God. It is a lesson we continue to learn.