by Erik Ritland
The Word and the Church
Bible commentary following the Catholic Lectionary (which gives an overview of the entire Bible) by the Fully Alive staff
Thursday in the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time
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2 Tm. 2: 8-15
Mk. 12: 28-34
It is clear throughout the Gospels that Jesus is asking his followers to live in a certain way.
We are saved and sanctified freely by his grace, yet being grafted into his kingdom also comes with certain expectations. Read the Sermon on the Mount. They are not just pious words, or, as some have argued, an impossible bar to reach meant to remind us of our need for grace. These interpretations strain credulity to the highest degree, ignoring the entire context of the Gospels and writings of the New Testament. They consistently hold followers of Christ to the strictest lives of self-sacrificial love of God and neighbor, a life that Christ lived out in his life, death, and resurrection.
When the scribe asks Jesus which is the first of all commandments, he doesn’t say “ignore the commandments, you’re saved by grace.” Instead he emphasizes the two commands that the Judeo-Christian program are founded on: love of God and love of neighbor. Personal peace and joy – and intimacy with God – come when we submit ourselves in childlike love to God. From that will flow genuine love for our neighbor.
Notice that love of self is not found in this context at all. Christianity, especially Catholicism (with its rich tradition of enjoying the physical and personal pleasures in life), is not self-loathing. However it is important to live an ordered life, and that order puts both God and those outside of yourself in the position of primacy.
Far from unhealthy or degrading, this emphasis outside of the self brings inner peace and makes one truly free. Self-absorption is crippling. The inability to look outside of one’s self, or putting one’s self ahead of everything else in life, is bound to end in disappointment. It is the foundation of all sorts of anxiety and mental instability. It makes it practically impossible to love others, because we are so busy thinking of ourselves and how we feel that others become wholly secondary. In turn we become isolated from others and from the world, turning the world in on ourselves, and living in desolation and loneliness.
We are only truly free and at peace when we let go of this self-absorption. Jesus shows us that a life oriented to God, through self-sacrificial love for God and those around us, is the way to true peace with ourselves and with the world.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. He is the lead staff writer and podcast host of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, which features commentary on music, sports, and an intellectual ragbag. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email.
Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.