In St. Mark’s Gospel, we are used to people asking questions of Jesus. Today’s questioner is refreshingly different. How?
Gospel (Read Mk 12:28b-34)
St. Mark tells us that a scribe (a teacher who was well-versed in the Law of Moses and Scripture) approached Jesus with a question: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Interestingly, Jesus does not quote from the Ten Commandments, as we might expect. Instead, He uses one text from Deuteronomy (see Deut 6:4-5) and one from Leviticus (see Lev 19:18) to describe the underlying meaning of all the commandments: Love God with all that you are; love your neighbor in the same way you love yourself. Rather than pick one of the commandments over another in importance, Jesus treats them as all of a piece, summarizing their two goals. Sometimes conversations like these were a trap for Jesus (see Mk 10:2), but not this one. The scribe is pleased with Jesus’ response: “Well said, Teacher.” Then he goes on to truly surprise both Jesus and us.
The scribe agrees with Jesus, but then he gives a profoundly deep summary of his own with respect to the Law: “to love Him with all your heart…and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Wow! Here was a true son of Israel. It had long been established in Scripture that the moral law was superior to the sacrificial laws of the Temple (see 1 Sam. 15:22; Jud 16:16; Ps 40:6-8; Hos 6:6; Mic 6:6-8). However, the constant temptation Israel faced was to substitute the ritual law for true love of God from the heart. Over time, of course, this led to God’s punishments on His people, most dramatically in the Babylonian Exile. It also led to the sterility of Pharisaic religion in Jesus’ day. This scribe had been able to perceive the real meaning of God’s covenant with His people, and he recognized in Jesus another Teacher who did as well.
Jesus loved what He heard: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Here was a man open to the healing Jesus was bringing to His people—a new heart that could love both God and man without reserve. This would not be accomplished in the Temple, where “burnt offerings and sacrifices” were made, but on the Cross.
See that “no one dared ask Him anymore questions.” Did the scribe’s wisdom and purity of heart make any further quizzing seem inappropriate? Did Jesus’ mysterious reference to the man’s nearness to the kingdom of God puzzle the others so much that they were left speechless? Whatever the cause, Jesus had the last word. Isn’t that how it should always be?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, sometimes it is too easy to substitute ritual observance for genuine sacrificial love. Please keep me vigilant against that.
First Reading (Read Deut 6:2-6)
Here is the text Jesus quoted in His response to the scribe in our Gospel. This is part of several long exhortations Moses gave to the people of Israel as he was about to die, just before they finally entered the Promised Land. We can see so clearly that right from the start, God always intended the religion of the Jews to be an affair of the heart. Yes, He had given them many rules for living as His people, but these were so that they could “grow and prosper the more.” Because God had so dramatically demonstrated His boundless, forgiving love in delivering the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, He deserved a whole-hearted loving response from them. Moses exhorted the people: “Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.” Sadly, this later had to become a warning from the prophets God sent to His disobedient and willful people, over and over. Their hearts became like stone. Only the Messiah could change this situation. When Jesus appeared, He was ready to do what it would take to give God’s people hearts of flesh, not stone.
The scribe in our Gospel was ever so ready for this.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, love—for You, for others—is the whole point of my life. Help me keep this focus today.
Psalm (Read Ps 18:2-4; 47, 51)
Although the nation of Israel fell very far away from true heart-love of God, there were exceptions. King David, the great psalmist, was one described in Scripture as “a man after God’s own heart” (see 1 Sam 13:13-14; Acts 13:22). Here we see what a heart full of love of God wants to say: “Praise be the Lord, I exclaim.” True love of God sees that He is our “strength” and our “deliverer.” It never tires of proclaiming, “The Lord lives! And blessed be my rock!” In our responsorial antiphon, we can sing with all simplicity: “I love You, Lord, my strength.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Heb 7:23-28)
Here we have an interesting blending of heart-love for God and man, together with the high priestly duty of offering sacrifice. We see a contrast between the limitations of the Levitical priesthood, established after Israel’s great apostasy with the golden calf and practiced in the Jerusalem Temple, and the priesthood of Jesus, which is after the order of Melchizedek, a priesthood God swore by His “word of oath” He would give to King David’s son. The Levitical priests were “men subject to weakness.” They made offerings for their own sins, as well as the sins of others. Jesus had no sin for which to make atonement, yet He made a priestly offering of Himself. The priest became the victim in the greatest act of love for God and man the world has ever known. That is why Jesus’ sacrifice was “once for all.” In His priestly work, it is no longer the blood of bulls and goats upon the altar. It is His own eternal sacrifice, in His own Body and Blood. This is perfect love of His Father, doing His will; this is perfect love of neighbor, laying down His life for us.
In this, the kingdom of God is no longer simply “near.” It is in our midst.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, thank You for making the one sacrifice that frees us all and brings Your kingdom into our hearts.