The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mark 12:28-34
All who debated with Jesus that day knew God’s law. The Pharisees certainly did. They were the teachers of Israel.
The Sadducees knew it as well—at least well enough to know what they didn’t like about it. And this scribe certainly did. He was a recognized expert in God’s law, employed for his ability to transcribe it.
Their knowledge of the Bible didn’t translate into being in God’s kingdom. Why is that? The scribe is a great case study. Perhaps better even than all the others we’ve seen. He wasn’t combative. He wasn’t trying to trap Jesus. He didn’t treat Jesus as a threat. He cames to ask a question because he saw how well Jesus answered everyone else. So here’s a guy who knows his Bible and doesn’t hate Jesus. He’s a good example because he represents the way so many people treat Jesus.
Look at his question. He has an important theological question to ask. “Which commandment is the most important of all?” That question was a hotly debated issue in his day. The scribes identified 613 laws in the Old Testament. That’s a lot of laws! And as with any complex system, some laws were considered light and some heavy. But could you summarize it? Lots of people tried.
The scribe loved Jesus’ answer because it was deeply rooted in the Old Testament, and it highlighted two important passages. The first is from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 about loving God. This was something every Israelite knew by heart. They recited it every day. The most important command was, first, to love God with all that you are.
The second passage Jesus combined with Deuteronomy 6 is the “love your neighbor” passage from Leviticus 19:18. This combination summarized the law in a way that actually made sense. It captured the whole thing. God wants both love for him and love for others. But one comes first. Loving others as yourself flows from loving God with all you are.
That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to have knowledge. He wants us to think through the Bible. He wants us to reason with him (Isaiah 1:18). He wants us to think over what he’s said (2 Timothy 2:7). He wants us to come to logical conclusions and reasonable answers to hard questions. In no uncertain terms, he wants us to know him, and knowing him means we must know about him. Knowledge, in fact, is part of what the New Testament writers urge all believers to achieve about God’s word. Knowing that we are saved by Christ grants so much assurance in the Christian life.