by Duccio di Buoninsegna,
Reading I: Hosea 14:2-10
Commentary on Hos 14:2-10
This prophetic work has an emotional motive on the part of the author. An ongoing analogy is playing out, using the backdrop of the author’s unfortunate marriage. Hosea’s prophecy paints Israel as an unfaithful wife (seduced away by idolatry and hardened by ignoring the poor), and God as the jealous husband who wants her back in spite of her faults. The language used in this selection, which is from the very end of the book, has that flavor to it. The passage can be summed up with: in spite of your sins, come back to God.
The Prophet continues to call Israel back to faithfulness and through repentance (“Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good”). God is their only salvation and their strength. The message to the people is one of complete forgiveness, if they but turn back to the Law of Moses. The conclusion of the passage is a possible inspiration for John the Baptist, for which the message of forgiveness and repentance was central, and whose role as precursor to Messiah echoed the message: “Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them."
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17
R. (see 11 and 9a) I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
Commentary on Ps 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab,14 and 17
Psalm 81 is a prophetic liturgy. The voice is a priest speaking in God’s name. We hear in it the Lord’s promise of compassion and the warning to listen to God and turn back to him.
Gospel: Mark 12:28-34
Commentary on Mk 12:28-34
In the continuing dialogue with the Sadducees from the Gospel of St. Mark, we find the questioner is impressed with the way Jesus handled the previous challenge by his colleagues (found in the previous verses). The Lord answers his question about the law with the Great Commandment, the opening of the Shema, the great Jewish Prayer, and then he follows that statement with the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself (see also Leviticus 19:18). When the scholar clearly understands what Jesus is saying, the Lord tells him he is"... not far from the Kingdom of God" (see also the commentary on Matthew 22:34ff).
A number of years ago I learned to play (poorly) a Korean board game that is likely the most difficult and complex game in the world – Go. Two players attempt to capture the largest part of the game board by laying down black and white stones. What makes Go so difficult is its simplicity. The game only has four rules and is played on a nineteen by nineteen grid board. There are so many different options that it boggles the mind.
The reason I mention the game and its difficulty based upon simplicity is that the same is true of the “First Commandment,” or as we call it, the Great Commandment, that is presented in scripture today. It sounds very simple, love God and love your neighbor. The complexity and the difficulty come with the equally simple word, love.
First we separate love into two major Greek definitions; eros and agape (there are four, but for the sake of this discussion we will not take up philia or storge). At some point they can come close to being seen as the same. Intense non-erotic love can be dangerous, and I suspect, misinterpreted. Expressions of it in, for instance, Victorian England, where women frequently hugged and kissed, today could be interpreted as something different, and tragically increasingly acceptable, quite likely as erotic love. For our purpose today let’s put eros away; it is not what the Lord was talking about.
So we now focus on just agape, familial love, love of a plutonic nature. How we define that relationship in today’s culture is also complex. For the sake of our discussion, let’s define it as caring more for the other person’s interests than one’s own. It is simplistic but it will work for purposes of understanding what Jesus was talking about when he left us the Great Commandment.
If we are to place God’s interests in front of our own, we must first, at least at a high level, figure out what God wants. We believe that God wants us to love him. We have been told countless times this is ultimate truth. Since loving God is explicit in the commandment, we go to the other things we know have pleased him – our success pleases him – the good we accomplish in His name reflects on him, just as what our children accomplish reflects upon us. And when we fail, when we fall, that has the opposite effect.
We could go much deeper on the first part of the commandment but let’s get to the second: love our neighbor as ourself. Using our definition, that would mean putting the interests of our neighbor before our own. On the surface that does not sound very easy, or even wise (if we consider the greedy nature of some of our neighbors). We must therefore consider this from a slightly more complex definition of our neighbor’s interests. What is in our neighbor’s best interests is to embrace God and make him happy. We must believe this because the Lord is the source of eternal life and it is only through the Lord that our neighbor can achieve the ultimate reward.
We must, as a consequence of our belief, lead our neighbor to God through our example and invitation. We must, in a loving way, help our neighbor understand God in this way. And that is why what the Lord asks us to do is so difficult. Using the Lord’s example of humble love for all mankind, we are to live that life that will bring all those we meet to join us in loving God.
 The picture is “Hosea” by Duccio di Buoninsegna,1308-11