Today’s Gospel reading brings us to the end of a series of debates with the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and it ends on an encouraging note. After various attempts to exploit discussion on God’s word in order to score political points or discredit Our Lord we find a refreshing change of pace: a scribe who is actually interested in seeking the truth and who acknowledges when someone has helped him to find it more fully. The scribes were debating about what the hierarchy of all the precepts were within Mosaic Law. They had already determined 613 precepts of the Law: 248 commands and 365 prohibitions.* Which were the most important?
Our Lord responds with the fundamentals not only for the Jews, but for us. When he tells the scribe that the Lord must loved above all else he is repeating the first words of the Jews’ profession of faith, the Shema, taken from the book of Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 11:13–21) and prayed by them every day. Their faith, and our faith, revolves entirely around the love of God. But Jesus connects this to another teaching from Leviticus (Leviticus 19:18): to love your neighbor as yourself. Connecting the two may have been a novelty for the Jews, but as Christians we know the two are closely linked: you can’t love God and not love your neighbor, or vice versa (cf. 1 John 4:20–21).
The scribe is also making the connections. In his response he draws not only from the part of Scripture considered the Law by the Jews, but also from the prophets. In the end Jesus tells him he is not far from the Kingdom of God. Could this be an invitation to become Jesus’ disciple?* Right now their conversation is at the level of peers, but the scribe is not far from becoming a disciple of Jesus in order to draw closer to the fullness of truth. Let’s pray today for all of those potential believers out there who are sincerely seeking the truth, so that they receive the grace to make that one last connection that convinces them to close the gap and become a disciple of Our Lord.
Readings: Tobit 6:10–11, 7:1b–e, 9–17, 8:4–9a; Psalm 128:1–5; Mark 12:28–34.
* Cf. J. A. O’Flynn (1953). The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St Mark in B. Orchard & E. F. Sutcliffe (Eds.), A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. Toronto;New York;Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson 1953,924.