Monday, November 06, 2006

Scripture Scribblings -- Play Nice!!!

Mk 12:28b-34 ~ The Greatest Commandment
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, "Which is the first of all the commandments?"
Jesus replied, "The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' 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."
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.
It seems interesting (to me, anyway) to hear this gospel just two days before the election. Maybe if we weren't so busy pouring all our money into negative advertising, we could put more energy into absorbing the message of this passage.

After all, it's not that tough of a message to get. Nothing like Jesus zapping a fig tree for not bearing fruit "when it was not the season for figs" — top question I get as my kids read through the Gospel of Mark. No, this one's pretty straight forward ... something I keep coming back to. Play nice.

Simple story .... guy comes along, asks Jesus about the greatest commandment. Presumably, given the use of the word "greatest", he's looking for a single answer. He doesn't get it, though — Jesus gives him two. "I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me." That one's pretty familiar. Number One on Moses' Top Ten List of "Things Thou Shaltn't Do".

But then Jesus gives him the zinger, some claptrap about loving your neighbor. What's up with that? "There's no other commandment greater than these"?!?!? So .... which one's the greatest? They can't both be the greatest, can they?

And yet .... seems to me that loving your neighbor has just become inextricably linked to loving God. And, unfortunately for us faulty flawed human beings, that apparently will also include those less-than-desirable neighbors of ours, like the ones who scrape their forks on their teeth or clip their nails at the symphony or drive the speed limit or are personal-space-bubble-y challenged or talk funny or have a different belief system or, God forbid, even vote for the other guy.

It also struck me how it's kinda the Old Testament focus of being all about "you & God" and the New Testament focus where it's all about "you & others" .... and they both get sandwiched together in this single teaching. They're both important; they're both essential.

And yet .... we seem to have a bit of a challenge living that one out!

Then, of course, there's the second half of that line: Love your neighbor as yourself. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm pretty darn good at the whole me-bashing thing. I'm great at the double-standard, too — I don't want to bug anyone or drag them down if I'm upset, but I totally want to be there for a friend if they need it .... "but it's different for me." A lot of times, I seem to need even more practice at the "as myself" part of the phrase than the "neighbor" part. I'm not sure how often we consider that side of things. After all, I don't think Jesus'd be too happy with me if I treated my neighbor the way I treat myself sometimes. Of course, on the flip side, I know I wouldn't be too happy with me if I treated myself the way I treat my neighbor sometimes, so I guess it goes both ways!

As an aside .... perhaps it's just the cynic in me, but I've never been able to understand this passage unless I turn the scribe into a full-force smart-aleck. Think Homer Simpson sarcasm — "Oh, sure. All the burnt offerings and sacrifices that we've been doing for hundreds of years, exactly as our scriptures tell us .... yeah, of course they're worthless when compared to playing nice with Flanders. I wonder why I didn't think of that before!" Otherwise, why would they suddenly "not dare to ask him any more questions"? Especially if you consider that the next big story is Jesus telling them to "Beware the scribes, those fakes and hypocrites" .... somehow that doesn't seem to be the response of someone who's particularly pleased with them. But maybe that's just me.....

Of course, then the smart-aleck in me thinks: If we're supposed to love God with "all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength" ..... then what's left for us to use to love our neighbor? :-Þ

Methinks I've been a bit too long with high schoolers. A couple weeks ago, as we read the Rule at the monastery before dinner, we heard how Benedict wants us to be sure to recite all 150 psalms during the week. We read, after all, that our holy Fathers, energetic as they were, did all this in a single day. Let us hope that we, lukewarm as we are, can achieve it in a whole week. (RB 18:22-25) My thought? "Oh yeah? And if our holy Fathers jumped off a bridge ....?"


Blogger Dennis said...

Well, our holy fathers were not MORE foolish than we, but much LESS foolish than we.

I think, actually, most rabbi's in Jesus' day would have agreed that the greatest commandment was found in the "shema Israel," "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one (or, is Lord alone). Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength." No one would have disputed Jesus on that, and it would have been seen as a revolutionary answer.

The second commandment might have been a little more surprising, but not by much. Depends on which rabbis were around.

It's the way you live that out that is surprising, even shocking. To live out those two commandments does not mean behaving the way the pharisee did in the temple when he thanked God he was not a tax-collector. It means loving the tax-collector. And it means loving the pharisee. For most of us are both of them at one time or another.

Thanks for plenty to think about this morning.

11/10/2006 9:50 AM  
Blogger Dennis said...

oops..insert a NOT in there at "...and it would NOT have been seen as a revolutionary answer."

11/10/2006 9:51 AM  

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