One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked Jesus, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
This was a remarkably friendly exchange between Jesus and the scribe, and it stands in strong contrast with the two exchanges just before it in Mark’s gospel. The scribe asked a straightforward question; this ball had no spin on it. It was a much debated question among rabbis. As they tended to expand the Law into thousands of regulations, they also tried to pick out its essence and express it in the shortest form. The scribe in today’s Gospel passage came with the usual question. When Jesus answered, the scribe said, “You are right, teacher!” It was perhaps slightly patronising, but at least he was better than the other scribes. “You are not far from the Kingdom,” said Jesus. The Kingdom is more than reciting the correct formulas; it is God’s grace invading us like a great wave and sweeping us out of our depth.
It was good to meet an honest scribe. This scene may have been put in the gospel to show that Jesus' teaching was not necessarily in conflict with the best of what was before. In other words, a bridge between the two was possible.
How important it is to construct bridges! A bridge is the other side made attainable; it enables you to hope. It was one of St Catherine of Siena’s favourite images; she pictured Christ as a bridge. In her Dialogue, the Father says to her, “I made a bridge of my Son as he lived in your company. And though that living bridge has been taken from your sight, there remains the bridgeway of his teaching, which... is held together by my power and my Son’s wisdom and the mercy of the Holy Spirit.” A bridge is a connection. It is all too easy to make disconnections: it is the easiest thing for the mind to do. A disconnection is a negative, and many live naturally in negativity; they are people who cannot invest themselves in anything, or they are people who invest everything in one narrow project of their own and deny everything else.
To love your neighbour as yourself is called The Golden Rule. Sometimes we hear people say that it is the heart of the Gospel and a distinctively Christian teaching. It doesn't take long nowadays to discover that it is common to practically all religions and quite a few philosophies. Four or five centuries before Christ, Plato wrote, “May I do to others as I would that they should do to me." In today’s gospel passage Jesus was replying to a question about the Mosaic Law; he was giving his interpretation of it; he was not giving his own teaching. When he spoke for himself he did not say, “Love your neighbour as yourself;” he said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Many people love themselves in ways that are twisted and destructive. This would not be a very reliable guide to how we should love one another. His love for us, and not our love, is the measure of love.
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