Mark 12: 28 – 34
In the Gospel for this weekend we hear about an encounter that Jesus had with a Scribe. At the time of Jesus Scribes were Pharisees who had a particular interest and expertise in the law, and were sometimes referred to as lawyers in the Gospels. Often when we hear of a Scribe approaching Jesus it is to trick Jesus into saying something that could be interpreted as contrary to Jewish law, and thus could be used against him. This Scribe is different than others, maybe he approached Jesus to ask a question to trick Jesus, as is commonly thought, but his response to Jesus’ answer shows him to be someone who truly desired and was open to the truth.
In New Testament times the Jewish people not only followed the Ten Commandments given to Moses, they also had 613 commandments that were imposed over time. These covered responsibilities to family, the manner in which to faithfully observe the Sabbath, various purification rituals, etc. The intent was to help them be faithful during time of exile, infidelity of the leaders, and the need to clarify what good order was necessary for them to be faithful. When the Scribe asked Jesus, “Which is the first of all the Commandments?” He was including these 613 laws. Jesus answered without hesitation by quoting Moses’ instruction to the Israelites as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land. This instruction can be described as a summary of all God had taught them, and became known as the Shema, which means “to Hear.” This instruction by Moses, that we heard in the First Reading today from Deuteronomy, begins with Moses saying; “Hear, O Israel!…….” The Scribe, no doubt, realized that he could not argue with Jesus quoting Moses, especially the Shema. Jesus went on to give the Scribe more than he asked for, he tells him what the second most important commandment is. For this he quotes from the book of Leviticus; “You shall love our neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
In his answer Jesus did three things: 1. He summed up the teachings of the Old Testament; 2. He shows us that he came to fulfill the Law, and did so by his teachings, example and ultimate sacrifice for us; and 3. Instructs us about what he expects his followers to focus on as they commit themselves to follow him.
This answer had a strong impact on the Scribe, instead of storming off disappointed with his failure to “get” Jesus, he remained and acknowledged Jesus as a teacher and that his answer was “well said.” Jesus saw that the Scribe understood and said to this Scribe something he said to no other Scribe in the Gospels; “you are not far from the kingdom of God.”
There are times when we might be tempted to fall into the same kind of thinking as that of the Pharisees and Scribes. To think that our understanding and interpretation of church teachings is the only correct one. When an Apostolic Exhortation, Encyclical or some other talk or homily challenges us to look at these differently, we can immediately try to discard it and discredit the messenger without desiring to hear and understand the truth of the message. The Scribe provides for us an example of how we should be willing and open to hearing God speaking to us today. It is an example that can be difficult to follow, but when we do we can hope to hear the same words spoken to us as Jesus spoke to the Scribe; “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.