Forward, But Always Remembering the Past
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
November 5, 2018

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) on November 4, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18; Hebrews 7:23-28; and Mark 12:28b-34.

Last week, we wrapped up the central portion of the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus explained what was necessary to be his disciple. Now, this month, we focus on Jesus’ teachings after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And central to today’s gospel passage is a commandment from Deuteronomy called the Shema. In Jesus’ time, this command was so central to Jewish identity that all Jews were required to recite it several times a day.

In our homily today, we’ll dig into the Old Testament history of the Shema. Only after that will we explore the implications of what Jesus said in regards to the Shema. 

11:30 am – I believe that I see a whole lot of people standing in the foyer. Let us open the doors and invite these people into this holy place!

5:30 pm – One belief that is central to us Christians is that God showers us with mercy and grace at every moment of our lives. Let’s take a moment to celebrate that.

We Christians owe so much to our Jewish ancestors. So, today, I want to teach you a word – and a concept – in Hebrew. The word is kadima. It means both “forward,” and “remember.” To be Jewish is to live the concept of kadima. It’s a kind of remembering of the past that defines your present and pushes you forward into the future. It’s a very important idea to us as Christians, too.

After Fr. Steven Bell preached his mission here last month, several of you asked why I never sing in my homilies. So, to make sure you remember the word, we’re going to learn a song. Folks, you can’t complain: you literally asked for this!

Don’t worry: you don’t have to be Jewish to be able to sing this. (I learned the song from a Mormon choir director.) There are only three words to this song: 

  • kadima – which means “remember” and “forward”
  • Israel – which, you guessed it, means “Israel”
  • he – which means the same in English, “hey” 

So, repeat after me:

Kadima! Kadima! Kadima, Israel! He, he, kadima, Israel!
Kadima! Kadima! Kadima, Israel! He, he, kadima, Israel!

So, the main gist of the song is this: you must remember your past, people of Israel, in order to be authentic to the future God intends for you.  [Repeat song two times, get faster, adding percussion instruments!]

Kadima is central to the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is the last book of the Torah, the Jewish Law. It tells of how, at the end of Moses’ life, probably around the year 1200 BC, just as the Israelites were ready to enter into the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses gathered the people and restated the Law to them. His speech included the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone!” He was reminding them how, through the Exodus event, the God of Israel had delivered them from those who worshipped foreign gods in Egypt, forming them into a nation. 

But the book of Deuteronomy was likely written down more than 500 years after Moses made that speech, and the significance of the Shema was very different by then. At this point, the nation of Israel had existed for hundreds of years, but the nation was falling apart. Deuteronomy is tied to the reforms of King Josiah in 622 BC, urging the Israelites not to think of themselves only as a political entity, but to recognize that their safety and security was intimately tied to their commitment to their God. Josiah’s reforms centralized worship of the Israelite God in the Jerusalem Temple, within the region of Judah. People began to see themselves more united around a religion – called Judaism, focused around the greatest, most powerful God – rather than united around a political entity – called “Israel.”  “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone!”  

But by the time of Jesus more than 600 years later, Judaism had evolved further. Jews now believed that their God was not just the most powerful God, but their God was the only God. And so, the Shema took on an even greater significance, because it was a statement of this strict monotheism. “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone!” The kadima of Deuteronomy: written in the time of Josiah, looking back to the time of Moses, informing the religion of the first-century Judaism.  

In the time of Jesus, it was a common question to ask the rabbis, “Can you summon up the Torah in a few words?” or “What is the most important commandment in the Torah?” We know that other rabbis in Jesus’ time responded to these questions with the Shema. Jesus’ citing of the Shema was not surprising.  Other famous rabbis of the time, including Rabbi Hillel, responded with another popular answer: Leviticus 19:18, love your neighbor as yourself.

What was surprising was that Jesus linked the two commandments together. Jesus employed kadima. He asked them to link the love of God in the Shema – a concept deeply weighed in Jewish memory – with the love of neighbor.  

But we’re not done with kadima yet! Today, in a culture that prizes autonomy and the knowledge of psychology, we employ kadima when we meditate on this teaching. Most of us hear Jesus naming a third love in his teaching that must be understood in conjunction with the love of God and the love of neighbor: the love of ourselves. The three are intimately tied together. 

Catechumens and candidates: with this Mass, you have entered into a more intense period of RCIA called the catechumenate. As you continue to explore the teachings of the Catholic faith, it’s possible that the Holy Spirit will invite you to do some tough “inner work” that will be intensely rewarding if you do it. So, I offer this advice to all of us in the room, but especially to you: if we don’t love ourselves, it’s hard to believe that God loves us, which makes it harder to love God. If we don’t love ourselves, we won’t treat our neighbors very lovingly, either.

If we struggle to love God or to love our neighbor, we definitely need to pray about it. But perhaps we also need to ask God to help us love ourselves. So, let us pray:

God, we have been told time and again that you love each of us for who we are, not for who we should be, and not for what we do. And yet we find it so hard to believe. Help us to grow in the belief that you love each of us unconditionally, so that we may each love you and love our neighbors with that same unconditional love. Amen.

Kadima, St. Austin Parish! (Kadima, catechumens and candidates!) The God who once delivered Israel out of Egyptian captivity can also deliver us from whatever imprisons us! And if we can understand and believe that, we will not be far from the kingdom of God.