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Scripture In Depth
Thirty-First Sunday
of Ordinary Time
November 4, 2018
Reginald H. Fuller

Reading I: Deuteronomy 6: 2-6

The first paragraph of this reading forms an introduction. Israel is entering the Promised Land, and its side of the covenant is to keep the law of God from generation to generation.

The second paragraph consists of the Shema, which became the daily Jewish prayer. God is to be loved in response to his prior revelation of himself as the one God.

That divine unity was revealed through the Exodus event and, for the Deuteronomist, through the perpetual accessibility to his presence at the one central sanctuary. To love in this context means to trust solely in him and to reject the many gods of the heathens.

In Hebraic thought, heart, soul, and strength do not mean separate human faculties but the person in the totality of his/her being. Thus, the radical nature of God's claim on Israelite obedience is emphasized.

Responsorial Psalm: 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

Psalm 18 is one of the royal psalms (note the third stanza), possibly going back to David. It is a thanksgiving for victory in battle. The refrain, taken from the first verse, forms an admirable response to the Shema.

Reading II: Hebrews 7:23-28

Having established the qualifications of Jesus to be high priest, the author at last embarks upon an exposition of his main theological theme. It consists of a point-by-point comparison of Jesus with the Levitical priests of the old covenant, demonstrating that at each point Jesus and the effect of his work are superior to them and the effects of their work. These are the main points of comparison in this excerpt:

Levitical Priest
many only one
impermanent eternal
subject to death alive forever
sinner—had to offer
   for himself
sinless—no need to offer
   for himself
repeated sacrifices once-for-all sacrifice
appointed by law appointed by oath
   superseding law


Gospel: Mark 12:28b-34

The double commandment of love had a triple attestation. In Mark it is presented in a Hellenized form. The Shema is directed against pagan polytheism.

The addition of mind/understanding to the list of faculties brings out the meaning of the Hebrew word for “heart” (lebab), which was the organ of intellectual activity, while the higher value placed on ethical obedience as contrasted with sacrificial cultus is typical of Hellenistic Judaism. 

Matthew's form lacks these features, and it is couched in a highly Semitic Greek. Hence it looks more primitive than Mark's. 

Luke's form, in our opinion, is an adaptation of the Marcan form and serves as an introduction to the parable of the Good Samaritan.

There has been much discussion about whether the double commandment is original with Jesus. Actually it is a combination of two different Old Testament passages, Deut 6 and Lev 19, so its contents cannot be regarded as original in themselves. But what about the combination of the two commandments, and what about their use as a summary of the whole Torah?

The idea of summarizing the Torah under a single basic commandment was not unknown to rabbinic Judaism, which occasionally used the commandment to love one's neighbor in this way. But the rabbis never combined this commandment with the commandment to love God.

However, the combination is found several times in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and there are other hints of it in the writings of Hellenistic Judaism. In fact, it seems to be characteristic of Jewish wisdom tradition, both Palestinian and Hellenistic. It must have been from that source that it came to Jesus.

Is there, then, anything distinctive about his use of it? Yes, for Jesus understands the interconnection between the two commandments in a quite radical sense. Love of God is illusory if it does not issue in love of neighbor, and love of neighbor is refined self-love if it does not proceed from the love of God

Reginald H. Fuller
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Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today

Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 364-365.

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