Mark 12: 28b-34
One of the religious scholars who had listened to them debating and had observed how well Jesus had answered them, now came up and put a question to Jesus: "Which is the foremost of all the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this: Hear, O Israel! God, our God, is the One God! You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.The second is this: You must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."The scholar said to Jesus, "Well said, Teacher! What you have said is true: 'The Most High is One and there is no other.' 'To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." Jesus, seeing how wisely this scholar had spoken, said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."And after that, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.
Today we continue to read from the Gospel according to Mark. Today we are reminded of the core of the Old and New Testaments. Over the years we have developed and added much to the core through the study of Scripture and through tradition, and so, we sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees. Today we look at the forest.
Both the First and Gospel readings today give us the core principles, commandments, mission statement – call it what we will – of all of Scripture. It can all boil down to two statements actually, as Jesus states in the Gospel of Mark, and that is the case in the Moses’ tradition as well. Although we call them the Ten Commandments, we can note all the first three commandments deal with our relationship to God, and the last seven deal with our relationship with others. So what is that relationship and what are the two great commandments, the two things that we must do so that it may, in Moses’ words, “go well with you” and “so that your days may be long”, and so that we may be in a place “flowing with milk and honey.”
The section of our first reading today from Deuteronomy only deals with the first great commandment, and is about our relationship to God. We are told that “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” In other words, there are no other gods – there is one God, the God of our Fathers. And the command is this: that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our might.
A little side trip, now. How can we be commanded to love something or someone? Can we just decide we are going to love someone and do it? I think this would be almost impossible to do. But if we look at love, not as a feeling or ‘being’, but as a “doing” then I think we can. Isn’t it true that we can say that we love someone all we want, but the proof lies in what we do. If we never do anything for that person, how will they even recognize our love? It must express itself in action.
Think of that beautiful list of St. Paul’s: “Love is patient, love is kind..” and so on. These are all action verbs: to love means to take action, to show itself, to express itself. So it used to bother me when we were commanded to love God, but now I know that by doing God’s will, by keeping his words (as Moses says today) I will be loving the Lord God. And the interesting thing is that the more we take action, the more we do, the more we begin to feel love and it becomes a state of being. So after we do things to show our love, we can then state with psalmist today: “I love you, Lord, my strength.”
So in today’s Gospel, a scribe has been listening to Jesus. By the way, a scribe in Israel may have been a person who copied Scripture, but was also a very educated person, comparable to a lawyer today, or a government official who was able to interpret documents. The Scribe today asks Jesus a question because he has been impressed with Jesus’ answers to the religious authorities. He knew the answer to the question he was asking, but he was testing Jesus to make sure that he knew Jewish Law, and could distinguish what was most important in it. So he asks Jesus simply what was the greatest or the “first” commandment. Jesus makes sure to answer the question correctly, but because he feels it is not enough, he addresses the second great commandment as well.
For the first commandment Jesus recites the very words of the Deuteronomy that we read today, although he does add one thing. Deuteronomy says that we must love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul and strength. Jesus adds “mind” as well. We must love God with all our minds. In other words if love is action, we must attempt to get to know God, understand God and the will of God.
This is the answer that the Scribe was expecting to hear, but it seems like he was also expecting more, and Jesus gave it to him.
The second great commandment involves other people… our neighbors, and it, too, is a command to love. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. Again, this must translate into action. It is no good to say we love our neighbors unless we show that love for our neighbors. This is certainly one of the reasons our church is trying to do more and more in the community and the world, to help those who are needy – to show that we love them, to take action towards them.
The Scribe was pleased with Jesus’ answer because it was precisely what he understood the Law to be. The Scribe adds that following this law of love is far more important than burnt offerings and sacrifice, which is what the religious authorities were concerned about. After all, they couldn’t pay for the upkeep of the temple and their salaries unless people continued to buy animals in order to make sacrifice.
Jesus’ response to the Scribe was a beautiful one: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”. Again, we get the impression that the Kingdom of God is not just after we die, but is here and now, and by our proper understanding, and our taking action to show love, we can be very close to it here and now.
So the main point that I would like you to take home and think about this week is ‘how am I taking action to show my love – both towards God and towards my neighbor. Is my own need for money, for power, for worldly pleasure, causing me to forget that others want and deserve good things, too. Can we show our love by sharing a little more the bounty God has given us. And as far as the first commandment, can we show God our love by trying to find some time to listen to him, to find him in prayer and companionship at church, to host him in the Eucharist. What can we DO to make God more in our heart, in our soul, in our strength and even in our mind’s awareness? My prayer is that we all can take action a little more in our relationships with God and our neighbors.
St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)