Pentecost XXI: Our Legacy

Our readings direct our attention to the question of our legacy, what we receive from the past and pass on to future generations. In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, at the end of his life Moses goes to the top of Mount Pisgah to glimpse the future. He has been withal a faithful servant leader to a difficult, willful people — not perfect, but he has pleased God. What he has received from God over a lifetime he has imparted with great integrity to the people. As his spirit departs the earth, the text even has our anthropomorphic God buries Moses.

The Psalmist today reminds us of a basic reality, namely that we are mortal and God is immortal. We are transient, God is eternal. We are now, God is forever. This perspective keeps us humble and builds our trust that in the grand scheme of things, we are in Divine hands and can trust.

In the Epistle, we see a Saint Paul who is aware that he is following in the footsteps of his ancestors, being a part of God’s “new thing,” and will have an impact on the future of faith that he could not have begun to imagine. We see a Father Paul who loves and serves his spiritual children whom he calls to a life worthy of God. That relationship, which still obtains today between priest and parish, is one in which the spiritual “parent” works to enlighten, empower, and support individuals in their own ministry, trying to build a faith family who will leave the world a better place.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is asked which commandment is greatest. Like the Our Father, this is not original Jesus material. He quotes Deuteronomy on love of God and neighbour. The ancient Jewish story tells of a man who came to the prophet Shammai, challenging him to teach the 613 mitzvoth of Torah while he stood on one foot. Shammai beats the man with his staff, sending him away. When he comes to the prophet Hillel with a like request, Hillel complies by telling him to love God and the other; that that is Torah, and everything else is commentary. The Shema, the ancient prayer recited by observant Jews four times a day and just before their deaths, is that very summary of the law.: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and might.”

Whether we wish or not, and by our actions and omissions, we leave a legacy to those who come after us. For example, we educate the young, we try to impart our faith and values. We are also leaving an earth devastated by pollution, racial hatred, thousands dying daily of starvation, millions without health care. What kind of world do you want to leave for the next generation? What are you doing to leave a better legacy for the future?

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