First Reading: From the Book of Hosea 14:2-10
2 Israel, come back to Yahweh your God your guilt was the cause of your downfall.
3 Provide yourself with words and come back to Yahweh. Say to him, ‘Take all guilt away and give us what is good, instead of bulls we will dedicate to you our lips.
4 Assyria cannot save us, we will not ride horses any more, or say, “Our God!” to our own handiwork, for you are the one in whom orphans find compassion.’
5 I shall cure them of their disloyalty, I shall love them with all my heart, for my anger has turned away from them.
6 I shall fall like dew on Israel, he will bloom like the lily and thrust out roots like the cedar of Lebanon;
7 he will put out new shoots, he will have the beauty of the olive tree and the fragrance of Lebanon.
8 They will come back to live in my shade; they will grow wheat again, they will make the vine flourish, their wine will be as famous as Lebanon’s.
9 What has Ephraim to do with idols any more when I hear him and watch over him? I am like an evergreen cypress, you owe your fruitfulness to me.
10 Let the wise understand these words, let the intelligent grasp their meaning, for Yahweh’s ways are straight and the upright will walk in them, but sinners will stumble.
Responsorial Psalm: From Psalms 81:6-8, 8-9, 10-11, 14, 17
6 ‘I freed his shoulder from the burden, his hands were able to lay aside the labourer’s basket.
7 You cried out in your distress, so I rescued you. ‘Hidden in the storm, I answered you, I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
8 Listen, my people, while I give you warning; Israel, if only you would listen to me!
9 ‘You shall have no strange gods, shall worship no alien god.
10 I, Yahweh, am your God, who brought you here from Egypt, you have only to open your mouth for me to fill it.
11 ‘My people would not listen to me, Israel would have none of me.
14 at one stroke I would subdue their enemies, turn my hand against their opponents.
Gospel Reading: From the Gospel Account of Saint Mark 12:28-34
28 One of the scribes who had listened to them debating appreciated that Jesus had given a good answer and put a further question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’
29 Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord,
30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.
31 The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’
32 The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true, that he is one and there is no other.
33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice.’
34 Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.
Theme: You are not far from the kingdom of God
What is the best and sure way to peace, happiness, and abundant life? The prophet Hosea addressed this question with his religious community – the people of Israel. Hosea’s people lived in a time of economic anxiety and fear among the nations. They were tempted to put their security in their own possessions and in their political alliances with other nations rather than in God. Hosea called his people to return to God to receive pardon, healing, and restoration. He reminded them that God would “heal their faithlessness and love them freely” (Hosea 14:4). God’s ways are right and his wisdom brings strength and blessing to those who obey him.
The grace and power of love and obedience
How does love and obedience to God’s law go together? The Pharisees prided themselves in the knowledge of the law and their ritual requirements. They made it a life-time practice to study the 613 precepts of the Old Testament along with the numerous rabbinic commentaries. They tested Jesus to see if he correctly understood the law as they did. Jesus startled them with his profound simplicity and mastery of the law of God and its purpose.
What does God require of us? Simply that we love as he loves! God is love and everything he does flows from his love for us. God loved us first and our love for him is a response to his exceeding grace and kindness towards us. The love of God comes first and the love of neighbor is firmly grounded in the love of God. The more we know of God’s love and truth the more we love what he loves and reject what is hateful and contrary to his will.
The love which conquers all
What makes our love for God and his commands grow in us? Faith in God and hope in his promises strengthen us in the love of God. They are essential for a good relationship with God, for being united with him. The more we know of God the more we love him and the more we love him the greater we believe and hope in his promises. The Lord, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, gives us a new freedom to love as he loves (Galatians 5:13). Do you allow anything to keep you from the love of God and the joy of serving others with a generous heart? Paul the Apostle says: hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Romans 5:5). Do you know the love which conquers all?
“We love you, O our God; and we desire to love you more and more. Grant to us that we may love you as much as we desire, and as much as we ought. O dearest friend, who has so loved and saved us, the thought of whom is so sweet and always growing sweeter, come with Christ and dwell in our hearts; that you keep a watch over our lips, our steps, our deeds, and we shall not need to be anxious either for our souls or our bodies. Give us love, sweetest of all gifts, which knows no enemy. Give us in our hearts pure love, born of your love to us, that we may love others as you love us. O most loving Father of Jesus Christ, from whom flows all love, let our hearts, frozen in sin, cold to you and cold to others, be warmed by this divine fire. So help and bless us in your Son.” (Prayer of Anselm, 12th century)