Mark 12, 28-34 no. 38 Nov. 26

Jesus has successfully shown his wisdom to three challenges – from the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Herodians, and the Sadducees; he has answered each on his own ’turf’. Superior in his answers, Jesus also reveals his wisdom, and will do so again in his reply to the testing from the fourth group, the Scribes. Scribes are known as specialists in the interpretation of the Mosaic Law and its traditions; their question, then, is fittingly about interpretation of the Law. How well and truly does Jesus know the will of God for Israel? The test from the scribe consists in identifying the first of all the commandments. Is there, among all the laws of Moses (and subsequent laws derived from them), a ’first’ commandment? The sense of ’first’ is that commandment from which all others are derived, or again that commandment which justifies all others. More broadly, this ’first’ commandment, sometimes called the ’greatest’, give validity to all other laws, and to the degree that another law does not correspond to it, that ’other law’ will be made to reflect as accurately as possible the ’first’ commandment. It is in this sense that Jesus can change or adjust or eliminate particular laws: he will make perfect law what is an imperfect conclusion from the ’first’ commandment. Note that this entire discussion is prefaced by Mark’s noting that the scribe asks Jesus about a ’first’ commandment only after he hears Jesus answering well other questions of some profundity. The scribe thinks Jesus is qualified for this greatest test: is there a ’first’ commandment, and if so, what is it? But Mark not only shows that Jesus is a wise expert as he identifies this first commandment, but he also shows that Jesus is in harmony with the scribe, who himself has the same analysis of God’s law as does Jesus. How unjust it will be, then, Mark implicitly shows, will be the condemnation of Jesus! Also, Jesus insists that there is a first, but also a second commandment; the scribe had asked only for the ’first’, but Jesus is quick to add the second, as though to say the ’first’ commandment is not sufficient to understand fully what God asks from Israel. In other words, God will not be satisfied that He alone is loved, but will be satisfied finally if one loves one’s neighbor as one would like to be loved. There is no question but that love of God deserves first place; love of anyone else would not. But Jesus will not let go of the subject without insisting on the ’second’ commandment which is the source for so many other particularized commands to love neighbor. That the scribe repeats Jesus’ words shows how much the Old Testament wisdom, in its essence, does correspond to the New Testament wisdom. It is extraordinary that the scribe chooses to affirm that love of God and love of neighbor are more valuable than the many sacrifices of the Temple worship. This view underlines the interior dispositions of a human being; no externals can replace one’s heart and choice. Jesus notes that this scribe, who began as a protagonist, is not far from the kingdom of Heaven. How much closer can he become? The answer of Christianity, of Mark’s Gospel, is ’faith in Jesus’. It is faith in Jesus that will bring to Heaven what is near, and yet far, from it. Finally, Paul has shown, in Romans 12, the emphasis Christianity had placed on ’your spiritual sacrifice’; this is an intentional contrast with Temple worship, which eventually did pass away with the destruction of Jerusalem. As the OT and the prophets and Jesus said, it is love with all one’s heart that gives deepest value to sacrifice. And it is faith in Jesus that will bring one to the object of sacrifice: God Himself. John Kilgallen, SJ
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