Catholic Theological Union LogoCatholic Theological UnionLearn@CTUCatholics on CallCatholic Common Ground Initiative

A Scripture reflection for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Donald Senior, C.P. | November 3, 2018

A Scripture reflection for the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 4, 2018



First Reading: Deuteronomy 6:2-6

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

Second Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Gospel: Mark 12:28b-34



Some time ago I was on an airplane and a fellow traveler next to me struck up a conversation. "You are a priest?" "Yes," I said. After a few pleasantries he steered our conversation to belief in God. He envied me, he said. "You must be confident in your faith, but for me God seems real only in brief glimpses. For the rest I am left groping in the dark."


That conversation popped up again when I reflected on the readings for this Sunday. My response to my brief companion was to note that Jesus respected people who see God only in glimpses. I thought of the father of the boy Jesus healed who cried out, "I believe but help my unbelief." And I thought of today's gospel passage about the scribe who asks Jesus which commandment was the "first of all." The version of this story in Matthew's Gospel portrays the scribe as trying to test Jesus, but not so in Mark's version.


Jesus' response to the Scribe draws deeply on Jewish tradition. Jesus first cites the so-called "Shema" (which means "listen" or "hear") or "creed" of Israel taken from the Book of Deuteronomy which is still recited daily by observant Jews: "The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." Beyond the segment quoted in today's Gospel, the text of Deuteronomy goes on to urge the Israelites "to take these words to heart," "keep repeating them to your children," "recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up," "bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be a pendant on your forehead," "write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates." Jews keep faith with this command by wearing amulets with this text inside on their arms and foreheads when they pray and by fastening "mezuzah" or small cylinders with these words inside on their doorposts.


But Jesus adds to these indelible words a quotation from the Book of Leviticus -- "the second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love of God and love of neighbor -- in a few profound words Jesus sums up for the scribe the very essence of what faith in God means. The scribe is awe-struck by Jesus' insight: "Well said, teacher!" And he repeats Jesus' words, adding his own conclusion that these two commandments fused together in Jesus' teaching are "worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."


This scribe who came to Jesus earnestly seeking the truth grasped that even the sacred rituals of the temple worship would be meaningless if not done in a spirit of love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus, the Gospel notes, saw that the scribe was sincere and had answered "with understanding."


Jesus' final words to the Scribe reminded me of my fellow traveler who saw God "only in glimpses." Jesus tells the scribe who had been seeking God, "you are not far from the kingdom of God." Not there yet, perhaps, but "not far" either. How many people there are today -- including many young adults -- who grapple with the faith that seems to come more easily to their parents' generation. I am convinced that the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels had great compassion for those who struggle with faith, as all of us do at times. And I think Jesus would understand those who have become disillusioned with a form of religion they experience as irrelevant or, worse, hypocritical. Unfortunately, our Church itself, when it lacks integrity or is indifferent to the questions of the young, can lay down its own obstacles for those seeking faith.


The readings for this Sunday invite us to go to the very heart of our faith, to proclaim it by what we say and do, and to have compassion and respect for those who struggle with belief. They are not far from the kingdom of God.


The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Donald Senior, C.P.

President Emeritus, Chancellor, Professor of New Testament Studies

Donald Senior, C.P., holds a Licentiate in theology (S.T.L.) from the University of Louvain, Belgium and a Doctorate in New Testament Studies (S.T.D.) from the University of Louvain. He has pursued further graduate studies at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio and at Harvard University. Fr. Senior served as President of CTU for 23 years, retiring in July 2013. On April 27, 2015, he was named Chancellor by the CTU Board of Trustees.

A frequent lecturer across the country, Fr. Senior also serves on numerous boards and commissions. He is past President of the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada. In 2001, Pope John Paul II appointed him as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and was reappointed in 2006 and 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI. He has been active in interreligious dialogue, particularly with the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Fr. Senior is the General Editor of The Bible Today and co-editor of the twenty-two volume international commentary series New Testament Message. He is the General Editor of The Catholic Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 1990). He has authored and edited several books and articles.

Donald Senior is a member of the following professional associations: The Catholic Biblical Association of America; The Society of Biblical Literature; Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas; The Chicago Society of Biblical Research; The Catholic Theological Society of America; The International Association of Missiological Studies; Pax Christi International.

He has served as an official representative to the Southern Baptist/Roman Catholic Scholars Dialogue, sponsored jointly by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention. Fr. Senior just recently ended his term as President of the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada. He is a member of the Board of Directors for Sadlier Publishing Company; the Board of Advisors of the Auburn Center for Theological Education; and the Advisory Committee of the Henry Luce III Fellowship program; and serves on the Executive Committee of the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada. In 1994 he was awarded the Jerome Award for outstanding scholarship by the Catholic Library Association of America. In 1996, the National Catholic Education Association awarded him the Bishop Loras Lane Award for his outstanding contribution to theological education. He is a past President of the Catholic Biblical Association of America (1997-98).

© Copyright 2019 Catholic Theological Union. All rights reserved.
Site design and development by Symmetrical Design.