A’scribe’-ing to Jesus – Thursday, 9th Week in ordinary time –Mk 12:28-34
The fourth round of attacks on Jesus was led by the Sadducees who, as we are told have been shut down and shut up. Now that the big guns have been silenced, it seems there is no one left to question Jesus; but there was!
The man in question was a scribe; a copyist and an interpreter of the law. The scribes were professionals at spelling out the letter of the Law while often ignoring the spirit behind it, bringing them in sharp conflict with Jesus. But they studied and interpreted the books with unwavering devotion. This is why the Jews and Semitic religions are often referred to as ‘people of the book’.
The scribe in our pericope seems to be one with a mind of his own. He has been hovering in the temple, listening to the Jesus haters who came in attack formation, wave after wave. He stands in admiration of Jesus for His ability to ‘answer them well’.
His admiration could have stemmed from the fact that he was part of the Pharisee party and if that was so, Jesus has just shut up the scribe’s rivals, the Sadducees, with a brilliant answer. Perhaps his admiration may have been intellectual; he himself being a man of letter, found in this simple carpenter intelligence par excellence.
Whatever be his motivation, there is no doubt that a curiosity to get to know Jesus had crept in. He directs his question not to trap Jesus but to get to know what he stands for. In asking Jesus ‘which is the greatest commandment’, he was throwing Jesus a question that was often asked to all Jewish religious leaders.
In asking Jesus which is the greatest commandment, the scribe could also be probing the foundations of Jesus’ belief. The reply of Jesus must have pleased the scribe for Jesus responds to his orthodox background with an orthodox reply; and that too from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and for good measure Leviticus 19:18 was thrown in.
Jesus breaks out in recitation of the Shema; “Hear O Israel”. The Shema was the first of the three texts recited twice daily by a pious Jew. Hearing the first words of Jesus’ answer must have brought a smile to the scribe’s face. This smile most certainly broadened when Jesus underlined His orthodoxy as a Jewish teacher with two more texts from the Torah.
Pleased to hear Jesus’ ratification of his own mind, the scribe acknowledges Jesus as ‘teacher’ and paraphrases the words of Jesus declaring the thoughts of Jesus to be more important than “all whole burnt offering and sacrifices.” These words by the scribe should not be understood as a repudiation of the sacrifice, for the scribe was simply echoing Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I desire mercy not sacrifice.”
There is mutual admiration. The scribe admired the way Jesus answered the Sadducees and was therefore drawn to Jesus. Now, Jesus admires how wisely the scribe has answered and pays him a compliment. “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
In saying this Jesus is not suggesting a deficiency in the scribe’s qualification for the kingdom, but rather indicating that the scribe is close to a full understanding of the kingdom of God. The scribe’s openness makes it easier for him to receive the understanding of the kingdom.
Think about it, perhaps St Mark wanted us to learn something from this scribe. Perhaps he had a catechetical purpose in presenting us with this text. We, who have often heard the teaching of the Lord and responded generously are perhaps not far from the kingdom either.
Fr Warner D’souza
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