31st Sunday Ordinary Time
Year B

To love our neighbors as ourselves

Don McEvoy, as Senior Vice President of our National Conference of Christians and Jews, was always in search of the reasons and remedies for Christian divisions. Early in 1981, Don visited Northern Ireland - a land where political and religious division is notorious. First, he went to the Protestant section of Belfast, then to the Catholic section. The two sections are as segregated from each other in idealogy and emotion as East and West Berlin.

On Shankill Road in the Protestant area, McEvoy talked with six Protestant teenagers - youngsters who, like their Catholic fellow-Belfastians, have known nothing but political and sectorian strife all their young lives. Then he went to Falls Road in the Catholic neighborhood and talked to a half-dozen Catholic youths. To both groups he presented the same questions.

"What would happen to you," he asked the Protestant kids, "if you went to the Catholic part of town." "We wouldn't get out alive." they answered. "They really hate us. It's unbelievable how much they hate us." And where did they get their ideas? "That's the way we were brought up! "

When he asked the Catholic kids of Falls Road what would happen if they went to Shankill Road, they had the same answer. "They hate us. They want to smash us. They're out to get us, to kill us!" And where did they get these ideas? Just brought up this way. That's the way it is!

Don's final question was "Will this problem ever be resolved?" Both groups gloomily agreed. "No, it will never end!"

How shocking to hear Christian teen-agers accepting hate as an unalterable fact of life. But their forebears are even more responsible for their attitude. As the well-known song in "South Pacific" put it, regarding traditional discrimination: "You have to be carefully taught! "

Christ's rule, thus overlooked, was the opposite: "To love Him with all our heart … and to love our neighbor as ourselves" is worth more than any burnt offering (Mark 12, 33. Today's gospel). And the first step towards loving our neighbors is to talk, not about him but to him. If we talk to our enemy, we will most likely find that he is no monster but an ordinary frightened person like ourselves.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q396: Jesus told the Scribe, who shared a wonderful insight about love of God and neighbor, that he was "not far" from the kingdom of God (Mk 12:28-34). What was lacking that he was not "within" the kingdom of God?

Scribes get a "bum rap" sometimes. We tend to put them in little boxes, because the gospels have given us several examples where the scribes are contentious and stumbling blocks to the message of Jesus. So it can be surprising to find one scribe who gets it right! From another perspective, we need to avoid "generalizing" the effect of Jesus' teachings on each member of the body of scribes. If we paint everyone with the same brush, we can miss the individual trees because of the bigger forest.

I recall someone saying that the interaction between the scribes and Jesus was not all that frequent, so it is refreshing to find one who is open to Jesus' teachings. One of the key points here is this matter of infrequent contact with Jesus. Yet on this occasion the scribe's heart was open and Jesus' teaching found a resting place. Truth and Love have an opportunity to reach their goals on these chance encounters.

But once truth and love are offered, recognized and accepted, there is still one step remaining. Recognizing what is essential and true flows from openness to the gift of faith. But then that faith must lead to action, that "leap" of faith into discipleship. I suggest that it was this remaining step, to follow Jesus in discipleship and live the love of God and neighbor, that was the one last barrier to the scribe's arrival within the kingdom of which Jesus spoke. Although we don't know the outcome, I like to believe that he did indeed take that step!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! We need to "walk the walk," not just talk the talk, by acting upon Jesus' invitation to active discipleship (CCC #520). We can avoid "boxing in" people by remembering Jesus' example of dining with some scribes and Pharisees, praising some, and endorsing some of their teachings (CCC #575). Chance encounters can be a great opportunity for us to evangelize others!