Sunday Reflection

31st October 2021, 4th before Advent

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 Hebrews 9:11-14 Mark 12:28-34


The text of Deuteronomy offers the people a quid pro quo: if you obey this command, then your days will be long, all will go well with you and you will multiply – ie dwell in growing number – in a land flowing with milk and honey. Wow! Who would not want that?

And what is the the qualifying command? That you love God with your total being, with the totality of your existence. The lawyerly minded might then ask for clarification: what is it to love God? For the writer of Deuteronomy, the answer has already been given. It is to keep all God’s statutes and ordinances which Deuteronomy details. To love God is to do that which God wants, to live life the way God directs. There is a great simplicity and logic in this. It is what one might expect when we read the creation stories, for they tell us that God created a world that was good, which was full of life and which was created so that that life in all its forms might multiply and flourish. To live in harmony in such a creation is surely to live in accordance with the creator’s intentions. 

Yet the fact that something is highly desirable and is straightforward to achieve, doesn’t necessarily mean that is what will happen. We know from reading the rest of the Bible that the people of Israel had great difficulty in sticking to following the ways of God. And we can clearly see when we look around the world now and see suffering, war, greed, destruction, deceit … that humanity still finds this a hard task. 

The Letter to the Hebrews uses much of the imagery and ideas of the Pentateuch, envisaging Jesus as the ultimate high priest – the one who mediates between humans (and indeed not just humans but creation too as we will see later) and God. The writer describes Jesus as the high priest of ‘the good things that have come’. Again the message that what God is and does give us, is good! He is also the high priest who, through his own death, has redeemed us for all ‘dead works’ so that we can worship the living God. Again a message that picks up the same message as that in Deuteronomy:  the desire that we should be in tune with God. To worship is to recognise the worth God, to offer our understanding of God’s nature. Jesus enables us to worship God not only because he embodies the nature of God in human form, but also because he redeems us from ‘dead works’: those things that come between us and God and between us and the rest of creation – those things that lead to suffering, war, greed, destruction, deceit. Jesus both aids our relationship with God and the resulting enjoyment of what is good in the world, and removes those stumbling blocks that damage that relationship. 

The passage from Mark continues on the theme of the kingdom of God and how one might access it. (A few weeks ago we heard of the rich man whose love of his wealth impeded his access). In today’s episode, the dialogue between the scribe and Jesus probe what  is involved in coming close to – and entering – the kingdom of heaven. The answer is two fold: loving God and loving neighbour. If we were to return to the creation stories, and in particular that set in the Garden of Eden, we would see that these as the subtext of that story. Whilst Adam and Eve and their companions – all the creatures God had created and which Adam had named – followed that two fold lifestyle, they enjoyed the fruitful life in the Garden. And maybe that too was a land flowing with milk and honey. But when they all respectively failed to love God and their neighbours, their companions, they found themselves living in a place of hardship and pain and enmity. 

And isn’t that still where we find ourselves today? As the delegates gather for COP26 and all the non delegates arrive in person or via zoom, we come to a crunch point in the wellbeing of the world. Over the decades and indeed the centuries, we have not loved our fellow neighbours, both our human brothers and sisters, and our creaturely brothers and sisters. We have not loved our common home but have allowed greed and cruelty, envy and ignorance to damage and despoil the land where we live. 

Let us pray earnestly that our global leaders will make the right decisions. Equally let us pray that we too as responsible individuals will do all we can to live penitent lives, truly loving God and neighbour  with all our being.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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