The readings this week deal with the concept of what is most important. Many things are important or worthwhile in life but what is it that is most important among them. The scriptures today present answers to that question concerning “the Old Testament Law,” the place of Christ in our redemption, and the New Testament Law of Jesus. They force me to consider : To what extent do I hide behind the forms of Christian worship while harboring unchristian attitudes? To what extent is my worship of God carried forth in daily life among people who are not always lovable? To what extent do I let my love of God express itself in love of neighbor when it is not the in thing to do?
First Reading: Deuteronomy 6: 2-6
2 So that you and your son and your grandson may fear the LORD, your God, and keep, throughout the days of your lives, all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life. 3 Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey. 4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 5 Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
NOTES on First Reading:
* 6:2 The section 6:1-3 is a conclusion to a distinct address. Compare with 4:44-49.
* 6:3 This description of the land is also found in Deut 11:9; 26:9,15; 27:3; 31:20.
* 6:4-5 This passage proclaims the basic underlying principle of the whole Mosaic law which is also the keynote of the Book of Deuteronomy: since the Lord alone is God, we must love him with an undivided heart. Christ cited these words as “the greatest and the first commandment,” embracing in itself the whole law of God (Matthew 22:37,38 and parallels). Eventually this passage became a part of the Shema (Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num 15:37-41) which was the principal Jewish confession of faith. Originally, this was probably not intended as an affirmation of monotheism so much as a statement of exclusive devotion to Yahweh.
* 6:5 The word, love, eventually took on a connotation of covenant fidelity.
Second Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28
23 Those priests were many because they were prevented by death from remaining in office, 24 but he, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away. 25 Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them. 26 It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. 27 He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 7:23-24 The idea of a “better covenant ” in verse 22 is illustrated with an example of superiority in that the new covenant is eternal, like the priesthood of Jesus upon which it is based whereas the Mosaic covenant was founded upon mortal priests who had to be constantly replaced.
* 7: 25 This intercession has often been seen as a priestly work that is different from but related Jesus’ completed sacrifice on the cross. This view is held by those who regard the work of atonement as coextensive with Jesus’ death on the cross which is a past event. However, many have also held that the following chapters indicate that the sacrifice of Jesus can not be limited to His death. Rather, His exaltation is an essential part of the sacrifice. Hence the sacrifice cannot be considered past since its climax takes place in heaven where the time sequences of earth are surpassed. There is some evidence that in late Judaism expiatory sacrifice was regarded as intercession. If that concept is reflected in this verse, then the intercession of the Exalted Jesus should not be thought of as a sequel to His sacrifice at Calvary but rather its eternal presence in heaven. See also Rom 8:34.
* 7:26 This verse appears to be a hymn in honor of the exalted Jesus, the High Priest, that corresponds to the Melchizedek hymn of verse 3.
*7:27 This is the first mention in Hebrews of the victim of Jesus’ sacrifice, Himself. The absolute sufficiency of that sacrifice is indicated by the phrase , “once for all,” which occurs 11 times in Hebrews.
* 7:28 The author is referring to a possible objection that the Mosaic law set aside the priesthood spoken of in Psalm 110. He says that the promise of the new nonlevitical priesthood came long after the law that has established the Old Testament priesthood and that an oath from God appointed not another weak human creature, but rather the Son Himself, as the new High Priest consecrated a priest forever.
Gospel Reading: Mark 12: 28b-34
28 One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” 29 Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! 30 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ 33 And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that (he) answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
NOTES on Gospel:
* 12:28-34 This section presents the fourth of the five controversies presented by Mark’s Gospel as taking place on the third day of what is to become Passion Week. The question as to which of the 613 precepts of the Old Testament Law was the most important was a popular topic of discussion at the time and was a question frequently asked of distinguished visiting Jewish teachers. This is one of the few times in the gospel when Jesus directly answered a question posed by someone who was not a disciple. In His answer, Jesus combines two Old Testament quotations (Deut 6: 4-5 and Lev 19: 18) which serves to emphasize His orthodoxy as a Jewish teacher and still demonstrated His tendency to get to the root of things. This passage is very important because of the importance that it implies ought to be placed on inner and basic dispositions. This is a very great change from the basic Jewish idea of : either you follow the law or you don’t. See Matt 5:21-48 for an even stronger emphasis of this.
* 12:28 This questioner differs from the others in his lack of hostility and in the approval he receives from Jesus (See also Matt 22:35; Luke 10:25). His attitude and sincere desire to learn make this a learning exercise instead of a true controversy story. The question that Jesus is asked had been asked of many Jewish teachers and would continue to be asked. The famous Jewish teacher, Hillel, answered a similar question by saying, “What you hate for yourself, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” This was in answer to a proselyte who wished to be instructed while standing on one leg. Hillel assumed that this saying would summarize the Law and provide a unifying principle for the 613 precepts. The early Christians understood Jesus’ summary of the Law as permission to disregard the ritual commandments. Whether Jesus intended that by His statement is not clear in the text.
* 12:29 Jesus responds with a quote from Deut 6:4-5. This is the first of three texts (Deut 6: 4-9; 11:13-21; and Num 15:37-41) recited twice daily by pious Jews. The command to love God flows from His nature as the only God.
* 12:30 The four nouns, heart, soul, mind, and strength are not intended to refer to various parts of the person. Rather, they are intended to signify the whole person who is to love God with all available resources.
* 12:31 While asked for one commandment, Jesus adds a second. There is no attempt at equating the two or at joining them (Luke 10:27). This second commandment is taken from Lev 19:18. (See also Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8 for later development of this idea.) The two commandments are connected by the word, “love.” The juxtaposition of the two was an original theological idea.
* 12:32 The scribe expresses his agreement with Jesus by paraphrasing His statement without hostility or irony. Matthew sharpens (Matt 22: 34-40) the scene by leaving out both the scribe’s response to Jesus’ answer and Jesus’ approval of the scribe which results in a depiction of it as a controversy story rather than a teaching stemming from a real question by one who wants to learn as Mark shows it.
* 12:33 The scribe echoes Hos 6:6 and 1 Sam 15:22 and probably is not meant to condemn the sacrifices and Temple worship. For the scribe, love of God and love of neighbor were the principles underlying the sacrificial system of Israel.
* 12:34 The Kingdom of God is presented here as accessible rather than future and seems to have a spacial dimension. The scribe’s correct understanding of what is important in the Old Testament Law places him close to the coming kingdom and prepares him to receive it properly.