Scripture References follow Homily..
The Scribe asked Jesus “Which is the first of all the commandments.” Now, the Scribes were the most knowledegable people on the topic of the Jewish Laws. So maybe this was an odd question, coming from an expert. It would be like the butcher at the grocery store asking us which was the best cut of beef, or the jeweler asking us about the quality of diamonds.
Maybe it was something about the way the Scribe asked the question, that prompted Jesus to answer so directly. Because Jesus typically answered that kind of question with a question of His own, or a parable. But here in the Gospel of Mark, the first of the written Gospels, Jesus not only answers the Scribe’s question about the First Commandment, but he even adds the second.
Now, this “First Commandment” is not one of the Ten Commandments that we are all familiar with. This Commandment, which also came from the time of Moses, was called the Great Jewish Shema. It was a prayer sung by all the Jews, and it began with the chant, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone!” It was a summary of all the laws,
that said – that the Love of God must always come first.
In the time of Hosea the prophet, the Israelites came to realize that they had not been following God’s laws very well. And so they offered, for their sins or iniquities, the burning of animal sacrifices, to appease God’s anger. And that tradition carried through all the way up to the time of Jesus. Yet, here in this simple question and response by a Scribe, something dramatically and radically new was revealed. It was SO profound that Jesus told the Scribe that “he was not far from the Kingdom of God.” And Jesus didn’t say that very often, either.
So what was this great revelation? Well first, the Scribe fully agreed with Jesus’ answer, that the love of God and the love of neighbor, were the two most important of the six-hundred-some Jewish laws. (You see, the Pharisees, Scribes and Saducees didn’t often agree with anything Jesus said.) But then, the Scribe added that these two “Laws of LOVE,” even outweighed all the burnt offerings and animal sacrifices that were made for thousands of years. By prioritizing Love over Legalism, here we can full grasp why Jesus was so upset over the sales of pigeons and doves and goats in the Holy Temple,
that we heard in Sunday’s Gospel.
You see, God’s forgiveness of sins did not come about because of mechanical sacrifices made my men. God’s forgiveness comes purely out of His great Love. And that’s a Love He wants to see in each and every one of us.
God wasn’t looking for us to hand-in a 10-point checklist based on those rules engraved on a rock. Like, “OK, I didn’t kill anyone this week, and I didn’t commit adultery, and I didn’t lie or cheat or steal. So is that a good enough entrance fee?” No, although it is important that we follow those rules, what God IS really looking for are the things we’ve done purely out of our Love for Him and for one another.
Jesus gave us the example in a parable, where those entering Heaven didn’t even know why. And they asked: “When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and visit you? And the King will say, whatever you did for one of these – least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
When we can love with ALL our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength, and not even know it – then we’ve come to the Gates of the Kingdom of God. And there we’ll stand, right along side that understanding and inquiring Scribe.
Friday of 3rd Week of Lent – B
First Reading Hos 14:2-10
Thus says the LORD: Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt. Take with you words, and return to the LORD; Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good, that we may render as offerings the bullocks from our stalls. Assyria will not save us, nor shall we have horses to mount; We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.”
I will heal their defection, says the LORD, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them. I will be like the dew for Israel: he shall blossom like the lily; He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain; They shall blossom like the vine, and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols? I have humbled him, but I will prosper him. “I am like a verdant cypress tree”? Because of me you bear fruit! Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the LORD, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17
R. I am the Lord your God: hear my voice.
An unfamiliar speech I hear:
“I relieved his shoulder of the burden;
his hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you.”
“Unseen, I answered you in thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear, my people, and I will admonish you;
O Israel, will you not hear me?”
“There shall be no strange god among you
nor shall you worship any alien god.
I, the LORD, am your God
who led you forth from the land of Egypt.”
“If only my people would hear me,
and Israel walk in my ways,
I would feed them with the best of wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”
Gospel Mk 12:28-34
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “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.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.