Recently, I heard of an incident on one of the area hiking trails where a man was confronted by a bear. As the bear came up out of the surrounding undergrowth the man was not aware of him until they were standing about 6 feet from each other. On seeing the man, the bear reared up to his full height and a let out a horrible roar.
It just so happened that the man was a proclaimed atheist, but you know the saying, “there are no atheists in foxholes”, and as it would appear there are no atheists standing 6 feet from a bear.
The man fell to his knees and screamed out in terror, “Oh God, help me !!!” Suddenly, everything – the bear, the trees, the birds, everything but the man – froze. The man saw the clouds part as a deep heavenly voice reached his ears. “So, all of your life you have denied My existence, ridiculed those that believe in me and looked out for yourself and only yourself. And now, when you feel that this horrible death is eminent you call to me for my help?” The atheist sort of looked down, felt a little silly kneeling in the middle of the trail, and said, “all that may be true, but I thought that you always taught your followers to love one another, and to do so with all your heart. Who could be more in need of your love than me right now?” God said, “in this you are correct, and I do love you, but unfortunately it is too late for me to stay the bear. This request is truly not coming from your heart”.
At this the atheist thought really quick and said, “Okay, maybe you are right, this request is not sincere, and it is probably too late for me to become a Christian, but what about the bear? How about you just convert the bear?”
“Good idea, nice suggestion”, God responded.
At this, time began moving forward again, and the bear immediately stopped roaring, looked at the man, quietly and respectfully knelt down and began to pray out loud, “Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive ….”
Isn’t it interesting the things that we ask of the Lord and how we ask them? For example: Dear Lord give me patience, … I mean like right now! Or, Dear Lord, help me to be more considerate of people’s feelings, even if most of them are just super sensitive.
In today’s Gospel one of the scribes comes up and asks Jesus a question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Understand, in the time of Christ a scribe was a Jewish leader whose function it was to copy royal and sacred manuscripts. So, this was a purely technical question, and in a way Jesus answered with the technical response that the scribe would have know by heart. He quoted from the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4 and 5, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.” This was both a scripture verse and a typical Jewish blessing, simple and to the point, and one that the scribe obviously already knew the answer to. He had thought a great deal about it and repeated it back to Jesus.
That is the way that it is with a lot of questions? We ask them but we already know the answer. That was the way that it was with the Hiker, he knew the state of his heart, he was just hoping for a different response from the bear.
The other problem with questions is that often times they require something in return. There are times that the answer comes with strings attached. There is another story that I recently heard of a small parish church, somewhere not too far from here, you may have heard about it. Where there was a member of the community that was known by the entire parish as being a wonderful and prayerful man. He always seemed to be in church and always seemed to be deep in prayer. One day a fellow parishioner asked him what he was praying so intently for. And he explained that he was a simple man, with simple needs but if he could just win the lottery there was so much that he could do for his family, his friends and his community. When word of this got around the parish people started flocking into to church to pray with the old man. Day after day the attendance grew until one morning the entire church was filled with people praying right alongside him. And then it happened, it seemed as though the roof of the church had been lifted off and a bright light shown in, and everyone started to hear a voice growing louder and louder until they could all heard it say …. “My blessed children, you know somebody has to first go buy a lottery ticket!”.
The question that was asked by the scribe demanded a specific answer, but it was specific for the scribe. The question asked by the old man for the lottery winnings was specific for the old man. The question is …. what is your question, what are you just waiting to ask Jesus?
We are lucky here at Queen of All Saints, we can receive communion every day of the week. We can spend time on Thursday in adoration before the Lord, and explore our faith journey in various discussion groups, prayer groups and Catholic Conversations. And this is just the structured offerings. What about during your quite reflections at sunrise, or your rosary during a hike, or your kind word to a stranger or your kind word to a friend?
Multiple times in the readings today you have heard the reminder that “the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Therefore, you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take this word to heart …. Because the reciprocal is also true. Our God loves us with His whole heart as well. As a matter of fact, he loves us so much that He sent his only Son to forgive us our sins and assure for us eternal life.
Jesus is waiting for us to come and ask Him our question. Don’t leave him hanging. Take a few minutes this week and stop by for a brief visit, or take a few minutes and just say a prayer, or be like the bear, get down on our knees a be truly thankful for the gifts that we are about to receive. After all, the only thing that God wants in return is that we buy a lottery ticket, well not really a lottery ticket … the only this that is wants is for us to make a sincere effort, ask our question of Him. He is more than capable of handling the rest.
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
‘He is One and there is no other than he.’
And ‘to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself’
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
October 31, 2021