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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
What must we do to be saved?
There lurks, in a superficial reading of today's Gospel, the danger of denying the need for Jesus to die on the cross for us and for us to be united to that death in the sacraments. There is the danger of seeing Jesus just as a good man, just an example to us of loving God and our neighbour.
Notice the man doesn't ask 'what must I do to be saved' he simply asks 'what is the most important law'? And Jesus replies "Love God and love your neighbour". A superficial reading may make us say 'fine. That's easy enough, love God, be nice to people and I am saved' Not even any need for an organised religion.
But the whole of the Bible, Old and New Testament is in part a response to the question 'How do we love God and How do we love our neighbour?' One of the great answers we hear in the first reading. 'Keep the law and the commandments. Keep all the laws of God and you will be saved'. But as St Paul points out again and again, as he hints in the letter to the Hebrews today when he says 'the law appoints high priests who are men subject to weakness' as we know from our own experience, we cannot keep the whole law, we are sinners, we fail, sometimes spectacularly.
...and our neighbour
And as for love of neighbour. Does that just mean the person who lives next door, everyone who is hungry in Longsight, everyone hungry in the world? Does it mean just people I agree with, what about wasteful people, people who dislike me, drug addicts. Who is my neighbour?
Remember when asked that question Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan in which the only one who could love the neighbour was not the priest standing for sacrifices, not the Levite standing for keeping the law, but the Good Samaritan standing for Jesus.
And here we come to the point that the second reading makes. The old law, the old sacrifices were never enough. The priests were sinners, they died, the sacrifices had to be offered again and again the people failed again and again to keep the law. But now Jesus the new priest has offered the perfect eternal sacrifice of sorrow and justice to God and he has offered it for all. And now he lives for ever to intercede for all who come to God through him. Jesus loves God with all his heart, he perfectly fulfills the law, he perfectly loves his neighbour by giving everything, even his life and by himself taking the sins of all on himself.
But now Jesus the new priest has offered the perfect eternal sacrifice of sorrow and justice to God and he has offered it for all. And now he lives for ever to intercede for all who come to God through him. Jesus loves God with all his heart, he perfectly fulfills the law, he perfectly loves his neighbour by giving everything.
Love God and love your neighbour is the path to salvation but we are unable to do it. We cannot keep the law, we cannot help everyone who is our neighbour. It's not possible - except in so far as we are united to Jesus who does it for us. United through the sacrament of Baptism so that in him and with him we keep the law, in him and with him we love God, in him and with him we love our neighbour. United to Jesus, each little thing we do to love our neighbour, each little prayer we say or tiny temptation we defeat becomes part of his perfect love of neighbour, his perfect prayer, his perfect sinslessness.
And if we do fail, we are not lost because, Jesus has succeeded for us, he has defeated sin and temptation for us, he loves God and neighbour for us. Having failed we turn to him in trust and sorrow and allow him to wipe away the consequences of our sins. Truly none of us are far from the kingdom of heaven.