In today’s gospel we hear Jesus responding to a question asked by a scribe. The passage does not indicate whether the scribe is a Pharisee or a Sadducee. But in the passage before this one, a Sadducee scribe asks Jesus a question about the resurrection in which the Sadducees did not believe. You know the question: “If one’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child and a brother marries the woman but they have no child and he dies, and this happens seven times, at the resurrection whose wife will the woman be?” Jesus is super quick to answer the question and goes way beyond the scribe’s expectation making him look ridiculous to the rest of the crowd. So, it is natural that a scribe who is likely to be a Pharisee would ask a question to take the next shot at Jesus. But there is one striking difference with this Pharisee scribe and with the Sadducee scribe that taunted Jesus. It appears that this scribe is actually asking Jesus an honest question in which the scribe seeks an honest answer.
Because he is a wise teacher, Jesus responds by pointing out to the scribe what he already knows and does. He speaks the opening verses of the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is Lord alone!” Orthodox Jews, like the scribes prayed the Shema every day. Speaking additional words from the Torah, Jesus then says that the second command is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Although for the early Jewish people, a neighbor was primarily another Jewish person, by the time of Jesus, it included refugees and foreigners as well. Consequently, we see Jesus again clarifying what the religious culture of the scribe already knows and practices. Jesus is encouraging the scribe to wake up and to see his faith in action in the world where he lives.
How often do we examine our everyday lives to see what our faith is doing? It is very likely that we are closer to God than we think.
Fr. Bob Kelly, OP