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Let Nothing Get in the Way of Love
A Reflection of the Gospel of Mark 12:28-34
Internet Image From https://matthewroot.ca/2019/03/29/not-far-from-the-kingdom/
There is something very special about the Scribe that questioned Jesus in the Gospel today. Unlike many of the Scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees in the Gospels, you get the feeling that he was asking Jesus his question without a hidden agenda. Perhaps, he was very impressed with how Jesus answered the question posed by the Sadducees in the Gospel of Mark (12:18–27) about the Resurrection that preceded this passage. Perhaps this man is seeking someone like himself, who longs for God and is serious about all that this entails. Jesus sees in this man, a person who is looking for truth. Amazingly, our Lord offers a confirmation of the Scribe’s conversion when He tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34 NABRE)
The New Testament Era Scribes were an interesting group. They were the well-educated and professional interpreters of the Law in the Jewish synagogues. For the scribes, the Law was revered as the precise expression of God’s Will in all its details. The Law became for them, the essence of piety. Unfortunately, the love of the law became, for many, a way of judging the piety of all around them. They began to love the Law, instead of loving their neighbor. And, by failing to love their neighbor, they failed to love God. St Bede writes that,
Neither of these two kinds of love [Love of God and love for our neighbor] is expressed with full maturity without the other, because God cannot be loved apart from our neighbor, nor our neighbor apart from God. (St Bede, Exposition on the Gospel of Mark 2.22. as quoted in Oden)
This group of professional religious thinkers were called Scribes and Lawyers because they would spend their lives explaining and expounding on every detail of the Mosaic Law. Jesus says of the Scribes,
“The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.” (Matthew 23:2–3 NABRE)
Jesus was no fan of many of the practices of the Scribes who He describes as; hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, and whitewashed tombs because of the many people their teaching would lead away from the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 23) Yet this Scribe is different. First, the Scribe recognizes that Jesus is a teacher. That word, “teacher,” in Greek, didaskalŏs (διδάσκαλος), means that the Scribe is acknowledging Jesus as a “Doctor” or “Master”, someone of great wisdom. In saying this, the Scribe, in humility, reduces himself to a disciple or a follower who seeks to emulate Jesus’ teachings and example. He calls Jesus a teacher in the sense that the scribe seeks to identify with his master’s teachings.
Second, the Scribe adds words that indicate an internalization of Jesus’ words. He replies to Jesus,
"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." (Mark 12:32–33 NABRE)
The Scribe, affirms that God is “One.” He is confirming for all of us today, that there can be no other Gods but God alone. There cannot be a number two, three, or four. There can be no worldly attachment, no other altars, such as wealth, power, ambition, or pleasure, that can rise above love of God and neighbor. Love is in the first, and only, place. He then adds that this love of God and neighbor, is “worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." In saying this, the Scribe sets love of God and neighbor before that of any other pious religious practice. He recognizes that “the Law” is not God. Instead, the Law is only the outward vehicle through which our love of God and neighbor is expressed. The Lord must have been rejoicing internally; the man gets it! He understands and, in this understanding, has come closer to heaven.
We believe, as Christians, that Scripture conveys unchanging truths that guide us toward Truth, Jesus, God. Despite the protestations of the world that truth is “relative”, we know that it is not. St James writes that in God, truth, “there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.” (James 1:17 NABRE) This is exactly what the Scribe recognized in the Gospel reading today, truth. The command to love, rises above religious practice. Religious practice should, instead, propel love. This truth will not change.
Mid-way through the season of Lent, this Gospel is a reminder that love of God and neighbor cannot come before anything else in our lives. The failure in the love of one, or of the other, is a failure to love both. The three pillars of Lent; prayer, fasting, and charity, all propel us toward this love. The Gospel also calls us to recognize that all the diligent observances of Lenten religious practices, our “burnt offerings and sacrifice,” if done without regard to love, are worth-less. Love, God, remains the prime. We go to God not by walking but by loving.
(Internet Image from https://www.behance.net/gallery/13856403/St-Patrick)
Today, we celebrate the Italian son of a family living in Wales around 400 AD, who was captured by pirates and sold to the Irish Celts as a slave. This young man would later escape his slave holders, a crime punished by death. Once he escaped, his love for God and neighbor was such that after his ordination to the Priesthood, he gladly braved death to return to Ireland to bring the Gospel to his former masters. He never let fear get in the way of great love. Of course, today is the Feast of St Patrick. So, in the midst of your celebrations, recall that we are celebrating the life of one for whom nothing could ever get in the way of true love, that of proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed to all who live in the shadow of darkness.
This is the love we are called to! Let nothing get in the way of your love!
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New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
Oden, Thomas C., and Christopher A. Hall, eds. Mark (Revised). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Print. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.