We have seen these past two weeks Jesus in His journey back to Jerusalem asking us – through James and John, and the blind Bartimaeus – the quintessential question, “What do you want me to do for you?” But this Sunday, we find a reversal of roles when, One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” (Mk.12:28)
What question would you ask Jesus if given that chance?
Jesus had finally reached Jerusalem, frequenting the Temple area which He had cleansed upon His arrival on Palm Sunday. Mark tells us the building up of antagonism against Him by His enemies asking Him with many questions. First were the chief priests, scribes and elders who asked about His authority in cleansing the Temple and then the Pharisees who teamed up with the Herodians to ensnare Him with the question about the paying of taxes to the emperor. Last to test Jesus were the Sadducees who asked about the resurrection by presenting to Him the case of a woman who had married seven brothers after dying one after the other. Mark tells us how Jesus satisfactorily answered all their questions that people were so amazed with Him. It was at this time when a scribe who had heard them disputing and saw how well Jesus had answered them came forward with the question we also ask up to this time, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Like that man who asked Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life (Mk.10:17), we can also identify with this scribe whose question is without guile. Like him, we find ourselves in many occasions asking the same question due to confusions from the so many things to be followed and fulfilled to be a good person and enter heaven. We know deep in our hearts like him how humans have stretched God’s commandments that have now exceeded more than ten that many could not even recite in order. Like this scribe, we have seen how faith and religion have ceased to be a way of life but more of casuistry, of obeying and keeping rules that made God look like a cop watching over us, ready to apprehend us for any violations instead of being a loving Father living with us. Like that scribe, deep in us is a longing for something higher, of something really akin with God than with our present situation when everything seems to be relative and on ground level.
We are known by the questions we ask, not by the answers we give that are often wrong or far from truth and reality. Asking the right question leads us to the right answer and solution to our problems. Even if we cannot find any ready answer to our questions but for as long as we are asking the right ones, we find clues for their answers as we move on with our lives. Here in our gospel today we find how our questions reveal who we really are, indicating our focus and distractions in life. In preparation for His coming pasch in Jerusalem, Jesus would reveal to us today and next Sunday the more essential things with God regarding our obedience to His laws and our attitude on giving. So, let us reflect on the reply of Jesus to the question of the scribe which is based on the “Shema Israel” prayer that every pious Jew must know by heart: “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 soul, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk.12:29-31)
Shema Israel is a verbatim quote from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. It is a prayer that evolved from the Jews’ experience and reflection of the Ten Commandments as a love involving their relationship with God and with others. More than a list of laws to be followed, the Decalogue became the sign of God’s covenant with Israel, a relationship to be kept with God at its center whose face is found among everyone as brothers and sisters. Hence, when the scribe asked Jesus which is the first of all the commandments, it was a desire to find God Himself. And when Jesus saw how the scribe had understood His answer, He told him “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mk.12:34)
Observe that child-like attitude of the scribe with his question. He was looking up to Jesus, looking for God in Him. When we ask Jesus any question, that is the only attitude required of us. Recall the different questions asked to Jesus in the daily readings last month like those concerning inheritance or how many would be saved (Lk.12:13, 23), or if His teachings are meant for us or for everyone (Lk.12:41). See how Jesus ignored the questions because they were the least of His concerns. Instead, He proceeded with His teachings to emphasize the importance of storing riches in heaven, passing through the narrow gate and being a wise and faithful steward. When a teacher of the law asked Jesus who is my neighbor, the Lord replied with the parable of the Good Samaritan so that he would realize in himself that we are all neighbors who must show love and concern for one another. When Pilate asked Jesus during His trial, the Lord clarified his questions so as to remind him that He is more than of this world. And speaking of the fourth gospel, it is only John who had recorded Jesus repeatedly saying His being lifted up in glory, that is, His crucifixion when He would draw everyone to Himself (Jn.12: 32). Here we find my dear readers how that every time we ask Jesus a question, the answer would always be found on His Cross because we can only look upward to Christ crucified. It is only on the Cross can we be led to higher things like God Himself! Ask Jesus any question like:
Try asking Jesus like a child, like that scribe and most likely, when we see His pains and sufferings on His outstretched arms and folded legs, head crowned with thorns with expressive eyes and lips filled with love, we find His answers on the Cross. This is why Jesus is “able to save e to save those who approach God through Him (Heb.7:24-26)” because He is our High Priest who literally hanged high up on the Cross for us. May you be blessed to find God in your questions to Jesus! AMEN. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Photo by Richard Val Candelaria. Used with permission.