The Final Question
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, we witness a series of scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees challenging Jesus with trick questions and complicated theological litmus tests, either seeking to reveal his perceived spiritual heresies or to set him up for trouble with the religious and civil authorities, or both. This Sunday, we will hear the final question posed to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, this one by a scribe in Mark 12:28-34. In this instance, he is not interested in trapping Jesus, but seems to come to Jesus out of true curiosity. Mark points out that “seeing that Jesus answered (the others) well,” the scribe asks Jesus: “Which commandment is the first of all?”
As a faithful Hebrew, Jesus knows the right answer here, and he recites the Shema—the refrain from Deuteronomy 6:4-5—that he learned as a boy from his father and mother: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” This would have satisfied the scribe, but Jesus doesn’t stop there. Unprompted, he adds: “The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
For Jesus, one cannot just love God in the abstract. The way that we love God is by loving our neighbors. The two are inextricably linked. The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, once preached about this passage: “When Jesus said love your neighbor, he placed no limitation, no asterisks, no emphasis on who your neighbor is. Your neighbor is everyone who has been made by God, which is everyone who has breath.” To absorb and to truly live out these two commandments, following in the path of Jesus Christ, is an incredibly difficult and challenging act of faith.
Perhaps that is why Mark notes after this interchange: “After that, no one dared to ask him any question.” (12:34) Is there a neighbor who is particularly difficult for you to love? Can you and I see the face of God in that person, and realize that they are inextricably related?
—The Very Rev. Gray Lesesne D. Min.