October 31, 2021
Sunday between October 30 and November 5 inclusive
Proper 26 Ordinary Time 31
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 12:28-34, The Message or Mark 12:28-34, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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This week's text is the climax of a day of confrontation between Jesus and the religious authorities in Jerusalem. (See my comment, Jesus' Last Week - Tuesday.)
However, just in case we were writing off all religious elites as hard-hearted, unseeing opponents of Jesus, Mark ends the series of hostile questions with a scribe asking a genuine one.
It is the narrator, Mark, who tells us that the scribe had been positively impressed by Jesus - "seeing that (Jesus) answered them well." We, the readers, should not gloss over this remarkable assessment of Jesus' honour by one of his opponents.
The question the scribe asks, "Which commandment is the greatest of all," is similar to the one asked by the rich, young man. (Mark 10:17) The concern behind the question is how to lead a life of moral integrity. A concern that can only be answered by thorough - and wise - understanding and practical application of the Torah. (See Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh below for the historical-cultural background used in this note.)
We can tell that Jesus knows the question is genuine and not hostile because he immediately gives a genuine and not hostile response.
Jesus simply and quickly (thus demonstrating his thorough knowledge of, and wisdom about, the Torah) quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
The scribe continues the genuine dialogue by affirming and elaborating Jesus' reply.
But more shockingly, the scribe then says out loud the unspoken implication of Jesus linking "Love of God," and "Love of neighbour as oneself."
No one in that crowd of both opponents and admirers would dispute, "Love of God," as the greatest commandment. But when Jesus goes on and links it to, "Love of neighbour as oneself," he has lifted attachment to the welfare of one's neighbours above all other duties and obligations, including - gasp! - religious ones.
And since Jesus is saying this while standing in the courtyard of the Temple just days before Passover, one of the most obvious implications would be, as the Scribe himself says:
"to love one's neighbour as oneself" - this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Notice that the Scribe doesn't just say, "more important;" he says, "MUCH more important." And remember that the Scribe has just said that the source of his livelihood is much less important than attending to the well-being of our neighbours. (Let's have a show of hands of all those present who feel the same way as this Scribe.)
Notice that like the rich, young man (Mark 10:17) Jesus SEES the Scribe as having answered wisely. But unlike the rich, young man Jesus does not ask him to give up his occupation, nor does he ask him to follow him. Instead Jesus publicly honours the Scribe with a word of praise:
You are not far from the Kingdom of God
Which of course is an indication of the fulfillment of Jesus' original mission to proclaim:
The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near.
Who knew that at the peak of confrontation between Jesus and the religious elites of Jerusalem, it would be one of them who would embody Jesus' proclamation of God's Good News?
After this no one dares to challenge Jesus again with hostile questions. And as any honourable man would do in such circumstances, Jesus now goes on the offensive - denouncing the elites and warning about the destruction of the Temple in the remaining verses of Chapter 12 and all of Chapter 13.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 202-203; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
Mark 12:28-34 (NRSV)
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32 Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; 33 and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,'—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 12:28-34 (The Message)
28 One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: "Which is most important of all the commandments?"
29 Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; 30 so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' 31 And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these."
32 The religion scholar said, "A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. 33 And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that's better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!"
34 When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, "You're almost there, right on the border of God's kingdom."
After that, no one else dared ask a question.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.