The inquiry about the greatest commandment appears in two other Gospels (Matthew 22:34ff and Luke 10:25ff). The former is a suggestion for a Penance liturgy under the theme of “Love is the fullness of the law.” I suppose Mark’s version would work as well, but he includes two aspects unique to his writing that I think have significance for a penitent.
First, let’s read the whole passage:
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.
Two remarkable things here. First, notice the dialogue with Jesus. The scribe “talks back,” as one homilist preached this once. How dare the scribe lecture Jesus on what is right!
But I’m not so sure this isn’t a good thing. Shouldn’t we be in conversation with the Lord about the moral life? Is give and take a good thing? Especially if we hear God urging us to this very high standard of loving God and others.
Second point is Jesus’ final response, “You are not far from the kingdom.” Not far, one preacher I heard once–but not there yet either.
Every penitent needs the encouragement, I think, to know she or he is on the right track, that the kingdom is near, that virtue is at hand.
On the other hand, maybe a preacher or confessor just goes with the greatest commandment. That’s enough of a task for a Christian lifetime. What do you think?