6 June 2024 - Thursday of the 9th even-numbered week

2 Tim 2:8-15; Mk 12:28b-34


          The context of Jesus' teaching on the greatest of the commandments is very simple. Jesus had just had discussions, especially with the Sadducees, about the resurrection of the dead. Then one of the scribes came up to him and asked, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments? This scribe seems to have been a sincere man. He did not approach Jesus to put him to the test, but was willing to accept his word. He wants to learn. Jesus took him seriously and answered him without hesitation, quoting the beautiful text from Deuteronomy that pious Jews still use today as a prayer: Shema Isarël, Hear, O Israel.

          The people of Israel were very proud of their Law. It set them apart from all other peoples. They had received this law from God himself through Moses. It determined every aspect of the life of the people and of each individual. It brought them happiness, but it was also a burden. It included so many precepts! How would it have been possible for one person to observe all these precepts for just one day? Hence the scribe's question, a candid and serious question: what is the greatest of all these precepts? This question expresses the passionate search for a way of salvation on the part of many of Jesus' compatriots - a search of which we had a fine example in the story of the rich young man a few Sundays ago.

          Jesus doesn't just quote a precept: ‘Do this’ or ‘Don't do that’. He gives a real teaching. The first word of his answer is: ‘Listen...’. In a very real sense, this is the first commandment of the Law: ‘Listen!’ And why listen? - Because ‘the Lord our God is the only Lord’. If there were many gods, if we had a choice between many, none of them could give us precepts. The only thing a god could do would be to offer us a contract... The faith of Israel is, above all, that there is only one God.

          None of us, of course, believes in the multiplicity of gods. We have no stone or wooden idols, no fetishes, that we could worship as gods. And yet it is not so certain that many realities have not become gods for us... They may be material things that we hold dear, but they may also be the image we have of ourselves and that we want to communicate to others, our reputation, our name, and so on.

          The Lord God is the only Lord. That was the first thing Jesus wanted to make clear. That is why, he continues, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’ Taken as a whole, this means that we must confess with our whole life, our whole existence, this truth that God is the only Lord - without hesitation and without reservation. That is the overall meaning of the answer. But each of the words used by Jesus: heart, soul, spirit, strength, has a particular meaning.


          The heart expresses a person's affective capacity. Our love, affection and tenderness cannot be divided between God and others. When they are addressed to others than God, they must remain in relation to God's love, so that we love God in others, while always loving them for themselves.      

          With all our minds: God has given us intelligence. One expression of love consists in using this intelligence that God has given us to get to know him and all his creatures better. It also means having the courage to make our own decisions, after careful consideration, rather than waiting for God to make them for us. As Augustine said: ‘Love and do what you will’. Loving with all your mind is even more difficult than loving with all your heart.

          We must also love with all our strength... That means remaining faithful even when the going gets tough, when the going gets tough... faithful even unto death, as so many prophets (ancient and modern) have done. Love proves its worth in difficult times.

          Then, in the teachings of Jesus, comes the other consequence of faith in one God: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This is not obvious! It is not easy to love oneself; and it is not without reason that, according to the teaching of Saint Bernard and the other Cistercians, love of God and of others begins with love of oneself.

          The scribe agrees with Jesus and adds something very profound. ‘[This] is better,’ he says, ‘than all the offerings and all the sacrifices.’ Jesus agrees with him and says, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’

          We are all on our way to the same goal. Let us ask for the grace to live in such a way that Jesus says to us too: You are not far from the kingdom of God.