Hos 14:2-10; Ps 81:6-17; Mk 12:28-34: Every now and then we get a glimpse of what the LORD has in store for us. It is so often fleeting and so easily dismissed as an illusion. We think we are fooling ourselves; we think such glory is not possible. Then, on second thought, it comes to mind like a haunting, an unfamiliar speech, we have heard in the day or was it in the night? The LORD our liberator, our savior whispers: “I relieved your shoulder; I freed your hands from the basket.” Indeed, at such moments we remember, we dare not forget. The LORD heard us in our distress, and He rescued us. Though we did not see his face, unseen and hidden, the LORD answered us in thunder. Indeed, there have been moments of desperation, times of distress, when we thought we would die of thirst in the desert of daily drought. Looking back, these were times of testing, moments of mercy, when the LORD gave us water from the rock, Christ our Rock. Then there was little doubt and we turned from all the strange and alien gods all around. Then we heard the voice of the One Who First Loved Us, the LORD our God who led us forth from idolatry, from slavery of every kind. At such moments, in such times, we were fed with the best of wheat and with honey from the Rock, who is Christ. The longing of the LORD our God echoes in the heart and words of the prophet Hosea, “Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them.” In today’s gospel, the Lord Jesus heard some understanding in the response of one of the scribes, and this was a moment of sweetness in the contentious conversations with those who were convinced that he was a threat to God’s People.
“Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols?” This is the cry of God’s own heart. These are the words of Hosea who suffered as the LORD himself suffered. Hosea was commanded to take Gomer, a harlot, for a wife because Israel had taken a harlot wife; Assyria, and all her gods, had become a harlot wife, false savior, for the Lord’s anointed. Just as Hosea had taken back his harlot wife, the LORD took back his harlot Israel. Though she had collapsed through guilt and was humbled by exile, no more would Israel say to idols, the work of their own hands, “Our God.” The LORD heals their defection; he loves them freely. His wrath is turned away; the LORD is like dew for Israel. His holy nation will blossom like the lily; Israel shall take root like a Lebanon cedar and put forth shoots. Because of the LORD’s faithfulness, Israel shall prosper and bear fruit. Everyone who hears this love story hears the word of the LORD. Like ancient Israel we, too, must understand; like our ancestors, in the faith, we, too, must be prudent. We are summoned from our idols during the holy season of Lent. We must know and understand, “Straight are the paths of the LORD, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them”. Though we return to the LORD with words, we continue to live in the LORD because his love enables us to live in love and obedience. We walk in his ways. We do not stumble.
Why would the scribe ask a question he already knows the answer to? Perhaps, the people had been so disturbed and divided by idolatry that they wanted to be sure. The scribes and Pharisees were not sure of the pedigree of this preacher, Jesus. So, they asked the most obvious question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The Lord Jesus passed the test, and the scribe praised him: “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The scribe is praising this new rabbi. He hears in the response of the Lord Jesus the truth that religion is not about the externals. True obedience is a sacrifice of the heart, not a ritual. This heartfelt response to a God who loves and rescues us from our pettiness and ourselves is the true religion of Israel. This is the truth that the Lord Jesus came to teach; the truth that sets us free. When the love of God and love of neighbor comes from our hearts and lights up the darkness of our world by lives of love and service, then we are not far from the Kingdom of God.