Love “with all your heart,and with all your soul,and with all your strength” (Dt 6:6)

by Susanna Mak
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 6:2-6

Hebrews 7:23-28

Mark 12:28B-34

Love “with all your heart,and with all your soul,and with all your strength” (Dt 6:6). This week’s readings remind us what love is and challenge each one of us,wherever we are on our life’s journey,to love humbly,courageously,passionately and unconditionally.

What is love? Is it a priceless diamond ring or a beautiful bouquet of flowers? A mug of hot chocolate on the coldest day? A grandmother’s hand-knitted sweater? Mom’s special soup? What about a willingness to walk with someone in their darkest hours? Standing by someone when everyone else has abandoned them? I believe it is all of the above! Indeed,love takes effort and courage.

In the Gospel of Mark,Jesus commends the scribe that he is not “far from the kingdom of God”,when the scribe “answered with understanding” to the question of the most important commandment - love (Mk 12:34). The ultimate destination of love is God,“‘to love [God] with all your heart,with all your understanding,with all your strength,and to love your neighbour as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk 12:33).

To love God with everything we have and love our neighbours as ourselves are the most important commandments of all. When Mary accepts Simeon’s mysterious words at the Temple,“and a sword will pierce your own soul too”,and thirty-three years later,gazes upon her son crucified and accepts Jesus’ last words,“Woman,here is your son”,that puts her in John’s care,love is made concrete by Mary’s humility and vulnerability (Lk 2:35,ref. Jn 19:26). Mary embraces her mission and loves with all her heart,soul,understanding,and strength.

Peter,who first boldly proclaims his loyalty to Jesus,“Lord,I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!”,later denies Jesus three times in the high priest’s courtyard (Lk 22:33). Peter,like all the others,has abandoned Jesus. After realizing what he has done,“he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk 22:62). Peter’s gut-wrenching sobs reveal his deep love for his beloved teacher and friend. Is he weeping for himself or Jesus? If Peter doesn’t love Jesus,he would not have wept so bitterly out of a broken heart. Indeed,Peter’s heart is broken by both his deep love for Jesus and his own weakness; recognizing his own lack of courage to love at such a pivotal moment. Nonetheless,Jesus lifts him up from his brokenness and makes him whole again. Indeed,love takes courage. After His resurrection,Jesus asks Peter,“Simon son of John,do you love me more than these?” three times; to each Peter answers with conviction,“Yes Lord; you know that I love you”(Jn 21:15-17). These three 'yeses' may never erase the hurt caused by the first three 'nos'; however we have good reason to believe that something more than human is happening here in this special reconciliatory process that Jesus administers for Peter. Each resounding ‘yes’ encourages Peter,and each one of us,to go on even when the going gets tough. One by one,each ‘yes’ heals the wound left behind by each “no”. In the final moments with Jesus,Peter steps up to the challenge,finally,and accepts the “belt” placed around him and his eventual “death by which he would glorify God” (Jn 21:19). Peter loves with all his strength as he treads the road of martyrdom.

What is love,then? Love is when Mary walks the final hours with her son; when Peter weeps bitterly for betraying his teacher and friend; love is when Jesus prays,“My Father,if it is possible,let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Mt 26:39).