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31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The scribe said to Jesus: "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." (Mk. 12:28-34)

There is something special about this gospel reading by Mark for this 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mark, who tends to overlook important details in his stories, attaches a profound comment to his narrative concerning the Greatest Commandment. For instance, in the synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke, a lawyer is the protagonist who questions Jesus about the Greatest Commandment. In Mark's tradition, a scribe asks Jesus, "Which is the first of all the commandments?" At this point in our gospel reading, the response by Jesus about loving God is similar in all the synoptic gospels. However, when reading further into our passage today about the scribe's response in loving your neighbor, we discover another layer of spiritual wisdom. Mark incorporates additional information.

Mark includes a phrase in his account of the Greatest Commandment about loving your neighbor that differs from Matthew and Luke. The scribe said, "... love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." On many occasions, Jesus verbally battled with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. This is not the case between Jesus and this particular scribe.

The scribe in this story presents an enlightening aspect of what it means to love your neighbor. He recognizes that his neighbor is worth more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. The scribe acknowledges that he must avoid treating his neighbor like an object that one throws away. We are witnessing what a genuine relationship is with our neighbors. Hear the words of the Prophet Hosea. When speaking for God, the Prophet Hosea said the following, "it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6).

Combining the wisdom from Hosea and the scribe, we discern that the revelation from Mark's passage calls us to reflect on loyalty when loving our neighbor. The Book of Proverbs adds this wisdom to our conversation, "There are friends who bring ruin, but there are true friends more loyal than a brother" (Pro. 18:24). In the times we live in, a loyal neighbor is essential. With all the challenges that we are facing today, we need trustworthy neighbors who know God. We need friends who will not only intercede but will remain with us till the end. In other words, a genuine love of a neighbor is not sacrificial; we love our neighbor because God first loved us. This is a moral obligation.

For this reason, it is fitting how Mark end's this story, "And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." When you are loyal to your neighbor and acknowledge God first, you, too, will not be far from the kingdom of God.

Author: Evangelist Michael P. Howard, MACS

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