Friday, March 24, 2017

Today's readings and meditation

FIRST READING (Hosea 14:1-9)
Thus says the Lord: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord; say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity; accept that which is good and we will render the fruit of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride upon horses; and we will say no more, “Our God,” to the work of our hands. In thee the orphan finds mercy.’

“I will heal their faithlessness; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be as the dew to Israel; he shall blossom as the lily, he shall strike root as the poplar; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon.

“They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as 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, from me comes your fruit.

“Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”

GOSPEL (Mark 12:28b-34)
One of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, 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; and 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.”

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; 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, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question.

Love and obedience go together  Servants of the Word

An over-simplification? Creighton University
The Most Important Teaching - Orthodox Church of the Mother of God

If we are to understand the meaning of the scribe’s question and Jesus’ response, we need to bear in mind the following. In the Judaism of Jesus’ time there were two opposite tendencies.

On the one hand there was a tendency to endlessly multiply the commandments and precepts of the law, creating norms and obligations for every minimal detail of life. On the other hand there was the desire to look underneath this suffocating congeries of norms to find those things that really count for God, the spirit of all the commandments.

The scribe’s question and Jesus’ response are situated in this approach to the essentials of the law, in this desire not to get lost in the thousand other secondary precepts. It is precisely this lesson about method that above all we must learn from today’s gospel. There are things in life that are important but not urgent (in the sense that nothing will happen if we let them slide); and vice versa, there are things that are urgent but not important. The danger is that we will systematically sacrifice the important things to pursue those that are urgent but often secondary.

How do we avoid this danger? A story will help us understand how. One day an old professor was asked to speak as an expert to some large North American corporations on personal time management. He decided to try an experiment. Standing before a group ready to take notes, he pulled out from under the table a large, empty glass vase. He placed a dozen tennis-ball-size rocks in the vase until it was full. When he was not able to add more rocks he asked those present: “Does the vase seem full to you?” and they all answered “Yes!” He waited a moment and then asked: “Are you sure?”

He again bent down and pulled a box full of pebbles from under the table and carefully poured the pebbles into the vase, moving the vase a little so that the pebbles could reach the rocks at the very bottom. He asked: “Is the vase full this time?”

His audience, having become more prudent, began to understand and said: “Perhaps not yet.” “Very good!” the old professor replied. Again he bent down and this time picked up a bag of sand and poured it into the vase with care. The sand filled all the spaces between the rocks and the pebbles.

He then asked again: “Is the vase full now?” And they all answered without hesitation: “No!” “Indeed,” the old professor said and, as they expected, took the pitcher of water from the table and poured it into the vase up to the brim.

At this point he looked up at his audience and asked: “What great truth does this experiment show us?” The bravest of the group, reflecting on the theme of the course - time management - replied: “This shows us that even when our schedule is full, with a little effort we can always add some other task, some other thing to do.”

“No,” the professor answered, “It’s not that. The experiment shows us something else. If you don’t put the big rocks in the vase first, then you will never be able to put them in afterward.”

There was a moment of silence and everyone took in the evidence for this affirmation.

The professor continued: “What are the big rocks, the priorities, in your life? Health? Family? Friends? Defending a cause? Accomplishing something that is close to your heart?

“The important thing is to put these big rocks on your agenda first. If you give priority to a thousand other little things - the pebbles, the sand - your life will be filled with meaninglessness and you will never find time to dedicate yourself to the truly important things.

“So, never forget to pose this question to yourself: ‘What are the important things in my life?’ Put these things at the head of your agenda.”

Then, with a friendly gesture the old professor bid farewell to his audience and left the room.

To the “big rocks” mentioned by the professor - health, family, friends - we need to add two others, which are the biggest of all, the two greatest commandments: love God and your neighbour.

PRAYER - William Booth (1829-1912)
Look, O Christ,
upon our sin-stained consciences,
and cleanse them with thy precious blood.
Look upon our divided hearts,
and heal them by thy redeeming grace.
Look upon our languid spirits;
kindle in them he fire of thy perfect love;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.


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