As we continue to read from Mark’s Gospel, our Lectionary skips a chapter that helps set the context for today’s reading. If we were to read the sections skipped (chapter 11 and part of chapter 12), we would hear about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his cleansing of the Temple, and the questioning of Jesus’ authority by the chief priests, scribes, and elders. The context, therefore, for this Gospel is Jesus’ growing exposure before the Jewish authorities. Jesus is being questioned and tested by the Jewish authorities, yet the scribe who addresses Jesus in today’s Gospel seems to be an admirer; he is not testing Jesus.
The question posed in today’s Gospel requires Jesus to interpret the Law of Moses. The Mosaic Law consists of the Ten Commandments and many additional commandments, numbering into the hundreds. For a devout Jew, adherence to the Mosaic Law is an expression of faithfulness to God’s covenant with Israel. The ranking of these commandments was regularly debated among the teachers of the Law.
Jesus was not the only Jewish religious teacher to connect these two commandments, love of God and love of neighbour. Both of these commandments were central elements of the religious tradition that Jesus learned from his Jewish community. Indeed, these commandments continue to be central aspects of contemporary Jewish religious understanding. Jesus’ response to his questioners proposed an integral connection between these two aspects of the Jewish Law. Love of God finds its expression in our love for our neighbour. Many believe, however, that this connection was heard in a new and fresh way when spoken by Jesus.
The scribe who questions Jesus in today’s Gospel engages in a positive dialogue with Jesus. He agrees with Jesus’ teaching that the commandments to love God and love neighbour stand above the commandment to offer worship and sacrifice in the Temple. With this dialogue, Jesus appears to close the debate with the Jewish authorities. Mark reports that no one dared to question Jesus further.
Gospel Mark 12:28-34
‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’
One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.
Introductory Prayer: Jesus Christ, where else can I turn each day but to you? One day, I will make that final turn to you, and it will last for all eternity. Yet as in everything else, you set the pace, you take the initiative, and you are the protagonist. You will turn and look my way first and I, as I strive daily to do, will respond and gaze back into your eyes. This moment of prayer is a rehearsal for that final turn to you. Amen.
Petition: Lord, teach me to walk the way of generous love.
Mapping It Out! All of us can admire complete and faithful love. Christ’s interaction with the scribe in today’s Gospel spells out for us this love. This is the great commandment. This is the key to our lives. This is a simple, all-embracing principle by which to live. Moreover, this is exactly what a “click-here” world wants. We want to simplify our lives. Christ makes the map of our life simple. We need to act out of love for God and unite all our strength, heart, soul and mind in this one endeavour: Love God. Are we complicating our lives unnecessarily?
Eyes on the Destination! Jesus Christ has made of his earthly life a perfect example of how we are to live. He demonstrates an unclouded love. He is truly single-hearted! He loves his father with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. We need to keep our eyes on Christ as our final destination. We can imitate him in his love for his Father. As Romano Guardini states, “The Lord’s entire life proceeds from his Father’s will. But it is in this [wisdom] that he is truly himself. He is truly himself in that he does not do his own will, but the will of his Father, and so fulfils the deepest and most private principle of his being. There is a word for this: love!” Could it be simpler?
Not Far! If we want to reach a destination, the shortest path is a straight line. When we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, we straighten our path. When we have other loves, competitive loves, loves that leave God out of our actions, that make us lose momentum and wander in all sorts of directions, we are not going to get close to the Kingdom. Can we not unite everything in a single-hearted love for God? If we do, then every email, phone call, meal, sporting event, errand, business meeting and class — absolutely everything — will take us to the Kingdom and not away from it.
Conversation with Christ: Lord, I want a single-hearted life. I was made for you, and my heart will be restless until it rests in you. Instruct me in a love for you that will be exercised in all I do today and every day of my life until I surrender my heart, soul, mind and strength to you for all eternity.
Resolution: I will consciously live as much of this day as possible as an exercise of love for God, offering him each moment, activity and prayer.
Our first reading for Mass this week contains the defining prayer of the Jewish tradition: the “Shema.” In the Gospel, when asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus, a pious Jew, recites this prayer from the book of Deuteronomy. We Christians too claim—or better, are claimed by—this great prayer. But what does it mean?