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The Book of Mark is most likely the first of the four gospel books to be written, sometime in the late 60s CE. Today’s reading follows and continues a section of conflict between Jesus and his political opponents which began at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem [the political, social and religious capital of the Jewish people] in Mark 11. Since then Jesus has been butting heads with the leaders – all of them : the money changers in the temple; the chief priests and the scribes; the elders (who comprised the Sanhedrin – the governing body); Pharisees (the religious fundamentalists); Herodians (those who accommodated the foreigners); and the Sadducees (the elite establishment).
Our section today is the final and climactic confrontation between Jesus and those who oppose him. But curiously it’s ambiguous. Is this an attack from an enemy or the acknowledgment of wisdom from a potential follower? For we hear that one of the scribes (who’ve just been being attacked by Jesus and giving it back to him) comes near and impressed by Jesus asks him a question that’s neither a trap or superfluous. He seems to want to learn at the feet of Jesus.
Jesus’ response is unique. He creatively combines Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 to equate loving God with loving your neighbor and vice versa. Curiously it is recorded in history that the great Rabbi Hillel said something similar. He was one of the most famous of all Jewish religious leaders: a sage and scholar associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud. He lived and taught before Jesus, (110BCE – 10CE). He’s famous for two sayings in particular: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?” and the expression of the ethic of reciprocity, or “Golden Rule”: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
While these two sayings are similar, Jesus’ positive version more actively equates love of God with love of neighbor and vice versa. (Leviticus 19:18 comes is the culmination end of a series of commandments about how to care for the poor). Jesus moves on to critique and condemn the patriarchal vision the establishment has of the Messiah (being defined by the right blood line), abusing their power to profit off the backs of the poor, and ultimately condemning the Temple institution which requires a poor widow (the poorest of the poor) to give all that she has to maintain an institution.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation