First Reading Commentary
The opening verse is proclaimed at a very exciting moment for the people of Israel as they are nearing the Promised Land. God gives them “statutes and decrees” which, if observed carefully, will give the Israelites prosperity, “wisdom and intelligence.” These “Commandments of the Lord” will make the Israelites the envy of all nations as other nations will observe that no other nation “has gods so close to it as the Lord” is to the people of Israel.
When God became Man and dwelt among us, He made Himself subject to His own decrees. But in doing so He brought the law to fulfillment; and the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey became the Promised Land filled with eternal joy and peace.
Jesus has brought fulfillment to the law which can be summed up in one word, “Love”. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39). This law of love prepares us as we journey to the eternal Promised Land. And this law of love does not cease when this life has ended; on the contrary, when we enter our Promised Land this law of love will exist at a level that we currently cannot fathom or comprehend.
God freely gives. The people of Israel were able to go to the Promised Land because God gave it to them. We have received the gift of eternal life because Jesus had freely given His life. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to freely give of ourselves by loving and serving God and each other.
In last week’s commentary the Gospel story of Mary, the sister of Martha was used as an example of how we must listen to Jesus speak to us. That particular Gospel story is not meant to convey the message that Martha was doing anything wrong by serving Jesus and the others who were present. Actually those two women sum up the message of today’s Second Reading. When Jesus speaks to us, we, like Mary, “humbly welcome the word” that is “able to save” our “souls”. Once we have heard our Lord speak, then we would be wise to listen to the advice offered by our Blessed Mother: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
In this Reading, Saint James seconds that advice when he says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Martha is that example of a doer. There is a Mary and Martha within each of us. Mary is like a contemplative monk who spends time at the Feet of Jesus listening to Him speak; but our Lord’s words should lead us into action much like Martha who can be compared to someone like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, for example, who devoted her life to serving God’s people in the poorest of the poor. But Mother Teresa knew that she could do nothing if it weren’t for the strength and encouragement she received from our Lord through prayer.
God has a message for all of us; and He also has a plan of action for us to fulfill; and both the message and plan of action will be different for each of us as our individual callings are in accordance to the gifts He has given us. God’s plan for us as individuals is discernable as long as we open our hearts and minds to hear His Voice and continue to devote ourselves to Him while making every effort to remain “unstained by the world.” We know not where God is leading us in the future of this life, thus it is necessary to continue to sit at the Feet of Jesus as often as possible to receive from Him strength, motivation and encouragement.
Critics of our faith will often cite this Gospel in an attempt to prove their point of view that the Church has many doctrines and traditions that were instituted by human beings. We must remember, however, that Christ set up His Church with a governing body who are the apostles and their successors. In Luke 10:16 Jesus tells His disciples: “Whoever listens to you listens to Me.” While it may be true that our faith has precepts, traditions, documents and rubrics that were instituted by human beings, they were instituted by the Church’s governing body who has been vested with power and authority from on High.
Today’s Gospel, however, is not so much about Church doctrines or traditions as it is about the condition of the human heart. Jesus lists a bunch of very unfavorable qualities that can come “from within” us. On the surface we can easily fool others by our good behavior and pious deeds but “not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Judas Iscariot is an example of how we can deceive or be deceived. Who would ever believe that an apostle would betray Jesus? The other apostles never suspected him. Certainly we would view the office of apostle as one of high honor and dignity, incapable of betrayal; but Jesus alone knew what was in Judas’ heart.
If we refer back to the First Reading’s commentary, we can apply Jesus’ law of love to this Gospel. What is our motivation? Hopefully it is love for our Lord and each other. Unfortunately we are sinful human beings which means that our hearts are not always in tip-top loving condition; but because of our Lord’s mercy, the damage is not irreparable. A heart that freely gives love to others is a heart that is devoted to and is knowledgeable of the ways of our Lord.
Referring back to the Second Reading’s commentary, we can grow in our devotion and knowledge of Him by spending time with Him and listening to His words. And as the prayer warriors of our faith often teach us, the more time we devote to Him, the more we will continue to advance in the on-going process of being transformed and renewed; and the more we continue to grow in this process, the more we will become like Jesus.