Scripture: Lectionary 356. June 7,2012. II Timothy 2:8-15. Psalm 25:4-5.8-9.10.14. Mark 12:28-34:
Jesus probably knew of two schools of rabbinic teaching. Hillel and Shammai. All three of these teachers were within the framework of the Herods and the Roman occupation in their beloved land. Rabbi Hillel has a similar answer to the young scribe mentioned in today’s Gospel.
The scribe is asking Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the Torah (the teaching, the law). All of the answer is bound up in two or three verses in the book of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Here is where we have the foundation and the heart of Jewish teaching on the commandments. Hillel teaches that “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” (b.Sabb. 31). This is what is known as the Golden Rule and Hillel deserves great credit for his teaching it maybe for the first time formally. Jesus is of the same frame of mind when he answers the scribe (a Pharisee) who is not trying to trick Jesus with his question but is honest and searching. We discover that he likes what Jesus teaches and calls him “Excellent Teacher.” Jesus also admires this wholesome person and tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
The scribe probably was a follower of the teachings of Hillel as well as Shammai. Hillel himself was a positive thinker and interpreter of the Torah and had a wholesome approach that helped others. He says, “love peace and draw others (your neighbor) to follow the Torah.” (Avot 1:12).
Jesus is not original in what he is teaching. It stems from the Torah and the two citations of it above from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Perhaps, the insight that may be new is that the word “love” joins both of them. This is not however a lesson in good manners or how to be psychologically sound. Rather the rabbis above are interested in the spiritual life of those whom they are addressing or teaching. One such student of the Law was certainly interested in the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ interpretation. Jesus confirmed that by telling him he is close to the kingdom of God. We may say that being that open and hones with Jesus he was close to the Son of God. Is he similar to the one who also was honest but could not follow Jesus because of his great riches and success? We do not know, but Jesus is said to have loved him. He does the same for this particular scribe who dialogued
with the Lord and found out that he was on the right track with the “Excellent Teacher.”
In a delightful book called “The Joys of Hebrew” has the following episode from the life of Hillel: It is entitled “ Standing on one leg.” (al regel achat) To answer a question or deal with a query very briefly and cursorily has been described as answering al regel achat, (standing on one leg). It all goes back to one of the most amusing stories in the Talmud, in which a Gentile wagered that he could get the sage Hillel to lose his proverbial patience, and proceeded to ask Hillel to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one leg…..HE LOST.”
Copyright 2012 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.