October 31, 2021 at St. William Catholic Church in Naples, FL
Deuteronomy 6, 2-6 + Psalm 18 + Hebrews 7, 23-28 + Mark 12, 28-34
After countless unpleasant arguments and trick questions in an effort to trap Jesus, this is a rare and pleasant moment. The two agree with another. The scribe is “not far from the kingdom of God” Jesus says, but something is lacking. Why is he so close, but not quite there? For Mark in this Gospel, what is missing is the following of Jesus on the way and all the way to the cross. What’s missing, in other words, is commitment to discipleship. The kingdom of God is not agreeing on the right answers, important as the search for truth is. It is a relationship, a commitment, an identity that makes him part of the group, the family of faith which becomes the church.
The common thread that runs through the response of Jesus, is love: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. Our understanding of this text and its message depends on our understanding of the word, love. Our English language is impoverished when it comes to this word. It can mean way too many things. Even the Greek language which was somewhat primitive had three words for love depending on what kind of love was being expressed. We use the word to describe all sorts of things from a tennis score, to express our taste in food, to the most sublime affection and bonding. The problem rests upon the fact that this world of ours equates love with feelings. That is not what Jesus and the Scribe are talking about. Our western world of individualism only compounds the challenge to understand what Jesus and the Scribe are talking about.
In their group-centered Mediterranean world, affection, emotion, and feeling had nothing to do with it. That’s internal stuff. “Love” as they are speaking is about something external, an attachment to one’s group or attachment to a person in the group. It is “kinship”. It is the village or the clan or the tribe that one joined at some point in life that mattered most of all, and that membership is what provided one’s very identity. So, to love God means to become attached to God exclusively. There is no other God, and it means attaching oneself to the group that clusters itself distinctly around this God.
To love one’s neighbor as oneself means to become exclusively attached to the people in one’s own neighborhood or village as if they were family. That same idea is what is behind that statement in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is not suggesting a negative emotion toward one’s blood relatives. What he asks is detachment from that kinship group for the sake of the Kingdom and joining the Jesus movement. This is not about emotions. It is about commitment.
The kind of group attachment in the world and time of Jesus is hard for us to attain in the Western culture. As precious a cultural value as it is, Western individualism is a huge obstacle to community. We are always thinking and talking about me. “I” is always the way we think. Forget about “We” or “Us”. That’s the problem with all this fussing about rights. It’s always about MY rights. Forget about how claiming or exercising my rights might affect the community or someone else, or maybe someone unborn. We join groups and remain members as long as the group meets our needs. When that fails, we drop out and join another group on similar terms.
With that in mind, we might begin to wonder how this encounter with the Scribe ends because in the text it is unresolved. What is lacking we ought to wonder? While wondering, it would not hurt to wonder about ourselves. Are we there yet, or is there something lacking for us? The Scribe admires, understands, and praises Jesus, but that does not make him a Christian. He must follow Jesus which means giving everything one has. There is no dropping out when it doesn’t feel good or isn’t fun or entertaining. In the very next story of Mark’s Gospel we will learn from the story of a widow in the Temple what it takes. Come back next week. Don’t miss it.