Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Are you in tune with Jesus' teaching?
Worship without real commitment and faithfulness is superficial
November 5, Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
The powerful story that is told in today's Gospel reading reveals the fact that not all Pharisees
and Scribes were antagonistic to Jesus. Mark tells us that one of the scribes came to ask Jesus a
There were in Jesus' time many commandments, which surrounded the formal biblical
commands we know as the Ten Commandments. The teachers of the time consider some of these
innumerable laws very important or heavy and some important but less weighty. There were
those who even wanted to know what was the most important law of all. The scribe who asked
Jesus the question certainly knew of these discussions but perhaps was not sure of the answer.
He therefore sincerely asked Jesus what he thought.
Jesus' answer comes right out of scripture. He points to the prayer or summons to faith, which
we heard in the first reading. He suggests that it above all summarizes what all the
commandments were about. It was the great prayer that all Jews prayed daily. It was simple but
direct. It summons the believer to love God with all one's heart, soul, and strength. Jesus added
to this "with all your mind."
Together, these emphasized the total commitment one must make. The heart was the center of the person's body and thought. The soul was the very principle of life that energized one. Strength emphasizes the effort one should make. And the mind reemphasized the sense of a full engagement.
It is interesting that Jesus then drew from another passage in scripture, Leviticus 19:8 to answer the question. It is the command to love one's neighbor as one's self. While not identical, Jesus wished to show that it too was part of the total. They are like two sides to the coin.
The love of God flows to love of others. Therefore, Jesus said there was no other commandment greater than these.
The scribe who knew the tradition heard what Jesus had to say and agreed that it was the right answer. Respectfully, the scribe who himself is a teacher addressed Jesus as "teacher" and agreed fully. Repeating the thoughts he adds that this law is worth more that all burnt offerings and sacrifices. The scribe was pointing to what is at the heart of religion and a commitment of faith.
As our first reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy, said, we are summoned to obey God and to commit oneself in love to God. Faith and obedience mean going beyond the externals of the law. Acts of worship without faithfulness and real commitment are only superficial. The prophets again and again challenged Israel to realize this. It was also at the heart of Jesus' call to accept the Kingdom of God.
Jesus recognized in the response a person who was sincerely searching to find the Kingdom. He said that the scribe was not far from the kingdom of God. It is one of the few times that Jesus praises someone and recognizes what he said as being in tune with his own teaching. Mark concludes with the statement that no one challenged him further or dared to ask him questions.
It is as if Mark is telling us that this question is the summation of all that is important and how could anyone go further. Mark is telling his church community if they receive this word and live by it they too have the right answers and are close to the Kingdom.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)