Homily for April 1, Friday of the III week of Lent
“Straight are the ways of the Lord, in them the just walk…” “If only My people would hear Me, and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.” These lines from the first reading and the psalm convey God’s invitation to His people to abandon the path of sin and idolatry, and to follow the road to salvation. The promises He makes are wonderful and encouraging, but knowing how to walk in God’s way isn’t always easy, especially at the time when Jesus came to earth.
Part of the problem was that the religious leaders had lost the sense of the essential and had imposed more and more complex requirements on the Jewish people, with an overemphasis on external, formal observances and minutely detailed laws. Jesus often condemned them for formalism and hypocrisy, for keeping up appearances of piety while feeding their own vanity and making themselves more and more necessary as elite interpreters of the law.
So, it is no surprise that one of the many honest people in Israel, a scribe who wanted to know what what God’s way really was, approached Jesus and asked Him, as we read today, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Maybe he had asked this question to the other scribes and Pharisees many times without getting a straight answer. But everyone knew that Jesus was honest and direct, and spoke with knowledge and authority that surpassed anyone else. Sure enough, the scribe received an answer that is short and to the point, and taken from the Sacred Scripture: love of God and neighbor.
He must have already suspected this in his heart, as he responds by agreeing with Jesus and elaborating on what the Lord had said. He himself, as a scribe, was something of an expert in the law, but he recognizes Jesus’ authority by addressing Him now as “teacher”.
This is an important lesson for us now in Lent. It is vitally important that we keep the essentials in mind in order to stay on track. What matters most is our conversion of heart to increase our love of God and of each other. That is more important than the Friday abstinence from meat, the fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and all the other sacrifices we might make, or Masses and prayer services we might attend. The external things are important, but they are only truly meaningful inasmuch as they lead to and are the result of our whole-hearted love. The more we understand and live this truth, the more the Kingdom of God is among us.