*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Readings: 2 November 2012- 4th Sunday before Advent

26 October 2012

iStock

Deuteronomy 6.1-9; Hebrews 9.11-14; Mark 12.28-34

Almighty and eternal God, you have kindled the flame of love in the hearts of the saints: grant to us the same faith and power of love, that, as we rejoice in their triumphs, we may be sustained by their example and fellowship; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

THE film Of Gods and Men tells the true story of a small group of Trappist monks in Tibhirine, Algeria. We see them living and working alongside their Muslim neighbours, and the elderly Brother Luc providing medical care.

The Algerian Civil War intervenes in their lives; there are tense moments when the monastic compound is invaded by extremist militia on Christmas Eve, and the monks bravely refuse to give in to demands to hand over their medical supplies because they are needed by the local people. Ultimately, in March 1996, in a night raid, seven Brothers are kidnapped, and the film ends with their trudging, with their captors, through the snow. Their beheaded bodies were eventually found.

The film is a powerful portrayal of the faithful love of God and neighbour. The struggles are shown honestly and sensitively: we see the monks discussing the hard question whether to stay or to leave while there is time: what do their Benedictine vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of life look like, when they are faced with life and death?

Watching the film again recently, I was struck afresh by the portrayal of the monks' persistent recourse to the chapel for prayer in the midst of life. As we say at the Benedictine Weeks in Durham Cathedral, prayer is not the holy bit that interrupts the rest of life: life is an integrated whole, in which our love of God is expressed in times of focused prayer, in our work, our relaxation, and our sleep.

Twice in this week's readings we hear the commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." Jesus adds the exhortation to love God: "with all your mind". How do we love God with our mind?

When I began to study theology, the lecturer exhorted us to pursue the intellectual love of God. Later, when I trained people for ordination, I remember encouraging new students not to fear the effect of theological study on their faith. If (as we do) we worship the God revealed in scripture, whose ways with the world are so wonderful, surely study - not just of theology - is an appropriate response and a way to know God more closely and lovingly? All study can be theological, and expand our world, not contract it.

November is a time when the Church does much remembering. We remember all the saints and all the faithful departed (All Souls); as a nation, we remember 5 November and the deliverance of our 17th-century forebears - a deliverance for them as momentous as any deliverance in the wars that we will recall on Remembrance Sunday.

The collect this week reminds us of the saints whom we remember: those faithful, passionate, sometimes awkward people who loved God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We pray to have the same faith and power of love; to be sustained by their example and fellowship. They were just as varied a bunch of people as we are today, loving God in millions of different ways, and setting us millions of examples to follow.

Jesus's response to the scribe who asked him about the first commandment was very different from his response to other people who questioned him during that tense final week of his life. This man must have caught Jesus's attention, because, far from being abrasive with him, he gave him a full answer, and noted the wisdom of his reply.

I like to think that Jesus's response to the monks of Tibhirine would be the same, seeing in their faithful daily service a true example of loving God with one's heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving one's neighbour as oneself.

Perhaps this helps to explain Jesus's slightly enigmatic, indeed, shocking final words to the scribe: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." He recognised a kindred Jew genuinely pursuing and loving God.

Mark began his Gospel with Jesus's proclaiming that the Kingdom of God had come near; now, near the end, a faithful Jew was close to the radical experience of the Kingdom of God that Jesus had brought, just as those monks brought the presence of God's Kingdom amid the violence of civil war.

Train-a-Priest Fund 2022 Appeal

Please consider a donation to TAP Africa this year. Every penny you can give goes to ordinands in Africa who face financial difficulty, to support them as they complete their training. 

Donate online

Read more about this year's appeal

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Forthcoming Events

24 May 2022
Disability and Church: Intersectionality
A joint webinar from HeartEdge and Church Times.

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)