It’s personal

This coming Sunday is the 31st Sunday in Year B. Our gospel is taken from the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus is asked which of the commandments is the first and greatest. When Jesus answers the scribe, He uses the second person singular form of the verbs: “You shall love..” Jesus is telling this individual what he should do. In this way it is not a dissimilar encounter with the earlier episode of the rich young man who asks what he must do to inherit the Kingdom (Mark 10:17-22). Although the man goes away sad, he clearly understood that this was an answer to what he, personally, must do.

When the scribe responds and virtually repeats what Jesus had said he makes it impersonal. He doesn’t say, “You’re right! I should love ….” It is as though the initial question was somewhat “academic” as opposed to personal; an intellectual exercise for the scribe as opposed to seeking a guide to this life and the Kingdom to come. Even Jesus notes that the scribe has answered “with understanding” perhaps acknowledging the goodness of the answer.

But then Jesus adds: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  This is a bit ambiguous and was likely intended to provoke reflection on the part of the scribe. The scribe’s searching and humility before God show are a start. His enthusiastic approval of Jesus’ teaching revealed an attraction toward the one through whom God had brought the Kingdom near. But the encounter is not a rabbinic discussion about the heart of the Mosaic Law, but a proclamation of the demands of the messianic Kingdom. I wonder if this is Jesus’ encouragement to the scribe to move from “academic” to action.

For a final thought, Pheme Perkins [679] offers:

What does it mean for Christians today to say “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”? Most of us do not live surrounded by temples and images of polytheism. Yet we might ask whether we have not given in to another kind of polytheism, a casual pluralism that accepts whatever anyone believes as “okay.” Or again, we allow good things that are not ultimate to become the ultimate and defining forces in our lives — nation, occupation, family, race, political cause, or theological system. [p. 679]

In the face of Perkins’ comment, one wonders how often such “polytheism” hinders us from the second commandment in which love demands a word from us, perhaps a gentle “push” or reminder to our neighbor that the Kingdom is at hand.

Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1994) p. 679

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