Along came a scribe – Thursday, 9th week in ordinary time – Mark 12:28b –34
The narrative of today’s text takes place on the Tuesday of Holy Week. Thrice, the might of the Jewish political and religious establishment attempt to trap him. He deftly answers their political and religious question and at times even choses not to answer them (11:33). Wave upon wave of deviousness is thwarted by our Lord. His ‘agony’ began long before he set foot into Gethsemane.
The narrative of today tells us that a scribe has been watching this entire episode unfold. He sees how Jesus answers the might of the Jewish establishment and he does this well. Now, the scribe has a question for Jesus. While the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have their own approach to the scribe there is no evidence in this text that he was hostile to Jesus. The passage ends with Jesus’ admiration for his wisdom and compliments him; “you are not far from the kingdom of God.”
The question that the scribe poses, clearly positions him to be a true seeker. “Which is the first commandment?” This is not so much a ‘what have I to fulfil list?’ but rather it is a ‘have I got the priority of my faith in its correct order,’ sort of question. Incidentally, this was not a question that was asked uniquely to Jesus. The great Jewish rabbi, Hillel was asked the same question and his response seems to have been the response of the Jewish leaders of that time; “what you hate for yourself, do not do for others.”
In answering the question, Jesus combined two Old Testament instructions. He put the traditional ‘Shemma‘ (Hebrew for hear), found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, words that are still recited twice daily by persons of the Jewish faith and the law of Leviticus 19:8, together. Jesus brought together the balance or the vertical and horizontal dimension, which our lives must have.
For Jesus, faith is not merely the salvation of the individual. God so loved the world that he gave his son that whoever believes will have eternal life. Clearly God’s love is not just for me; He wants the world to be saved. For many of us, faith is a uni-directional relationship; me and my God. While Jesus acknowledges the importance and the centrality of a God centered relationship, reiterated by the words of the ‘shemma’ in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 he also introduces a social dimension to the faith. If God is to be loved with all our heart and soul and mind the neighbour must be loved as we love ourselves.
The scribe is in agreement with Jesus. Clearly, he is not swayed by the Sadducees or the Pharisees or the scribes or the Herodians who were circling around Jesus like vultures around a carcass. This lawyer was not swayed by popular opinion and he complimented the Lord when every power that be around him, stood and attacked Our Lord.
While the text is exegetically rich it also points to simple values of integrity; the ability to stand up for the truth in the face of the chorus of voices singing the same disharmonious tune. That’s not all; he had an opinion too. While sacrifice in the temple was mandated and was the most visible expression of public worship, this sacrifice for the scribe, meant nothing if the love of God and neighbour was not practiced. Such expressions of cult are empty and meaningless for they become a public demonstration of empty faith gestures which men revel in but God abhors.
There are several take aways from today’s Gospel
1. We can ask ourselves today; do we value God’s commandments? Clearly this scribe desired to do more than just be right in God’s eyes. God’s commandments are not suggestions, nor can they be cherry picked. We wilfully teach our children to break the commandment when we place as important secular studies over Sunday mass and catechism and then we wonder why our children have fallen off the road in their teens?
2. God wants us to love him and his commandments with “all our heart, and soul and mind.” Today, ask the Lord to enlarge your heart to make you more and more sensitive to the quality of His love and help you to love others with the same love with which He loves you.
3. Notice what Jesus says are the two most important commandments. They are about love, not about rules. Do I sometimes think that rules are the most important thing? Do I sometimes judge those who break rules? Sit with Jesus and think honestly about these things, asking him to lead you to the truth