Scripture: Lectionary 356. June 6. Tobit 6:11; 7:1. 9-14; 8:4-7. Psalm 128:1-2,3,4-5. Mark 12:28-34:
Mark presents Jesus as a person with passion—even anger at times. Rarely do we find Jesus praising anyone and certainly he is rough on himself. We remember the words he said to one of the scribes who was asking a question. Jesus replies “No one is good but God!” Today, we find a scribe who does gain praise from Jesus and it is good to see this in Mark’s Gospel of tough discipleship and the way of the Cross in following in his footsteps. This scribe asks Jesus about the greatest of the commandments and Jesus gives the best answer possible by citing the Shema that is the best prayer in the Torah taken from Deuteronomy 6: 4-6. It is the oldest among the Hebrew prayers and the greatest. It is an affirmation of Israel’s faith (likened to our Creed). It is prayed three times a day in morning prayer, evening prayer, and once more. The first letter of Shema (Hear) and the last letter of Echad (One) are capitalized in the Hebrew in order to concentrate one’s thought on this beautiful prayer of faith of the heart. (Sh….D). Yes, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Jesus adds another commandment of love, that is rendered toward our neighbor but includes love of one’s self. (Leviticus 19:18). The combination is expressed inwardly in ourselves if we are to live out this commandment.
One of the early rabbis named Hillel who had a more positive approach expresses this thought which is close to that of Jesus, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Law; the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” Jesus connects the two commandments by using the word “love.” This verb for love “agapan” is used four times in our passage. Today a Jew recites the Shema on his or her death bed and it sustained many of the Israelites during times of persecution and martyrdom.
We can see why Jesus praised the scribe and said to him, “You are not far from the reign of God” meaning right now he lives in the presence of God and is aware of his purpose in life. The scribe has his priorities in order. He is sincere and single minded in his question to Jesus. From my perspective the passage Mark gives us about the scribe shows that he has love for God, love for his neighbor, and love for himself in the proper order. He is virtuous, holistic, and wholesome in how he lives his life. The passage covers the scriptural dimensions of love and shows us Jesus agreeing with the scribe and even stating this in a noble manner of appreciation.
I personally use this prayer in my last moments of prayer for each day. The Office of the Liturgy of the Hours has a night prayer calledCompline (to complete the day with prayer). It has a few moments for the exercise called an “examen” or an examination of one’s words, deeds, and actions during the day. I remember one of our learned priests saying it with these simple words, “Did I bring good news today to others, or was I bad news?”
The Shema can be further prayed and meditated upon through these texts: Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. If we add a doxology to the Shema as expressed in today’s Gospel it would be this Jewish one: “Blessed be the name of the glory of His Kingdom for ever and ever.”
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.