by Father Mike Stubbs
In the debate preceding the election, the candidate’s opponent demanded, “Why do you want to put burdens on the American people by raising taxes?”
Opponents of a public figure will sometimes ask a question, not in a sincere effort to learn the truth but, rather, as a way to attack that person.
In his public ministry, Jesus often encountered such questions from his opponents. Those questions typically originated from the scribes and Pharisees.
That is why the scribe who questions Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel, Mk 12:28-34, stands out from all the others. He innocently asks: “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
We might note that while the Gospels of Matthew and Luke report the same incident, they present it in an entirely different light (Mt 22:34-40; Lk 10:25-28).
Luke’s Gospel uses the scribe’s question as a lead-in to the parable of the good Samaritan. Matthew and Luke describe the scribe as an opponent of Jesus, who is trying to test him, unlike Mark, who sees him as a seeker of truth and open to Jesus’ message.
When Jesus responds with the commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself,” the scribe voices his approval. He tells Jesus that such love is “worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Jesus is impressed with the scribe’s sincerity, both in asking the question and receiving the answer. He tells the scribe: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
We might wonder why the scribe stops there. He does not ask any further questions of Jesus. And he is not alone. The Gospel notes: “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Notice that Jesus tells him: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Does Jesus mean “you are not far, but you are not there yet”? If the scribe had asked further questions, would that have brought him into the kingdom of God?
The Gospel suggests that we get into trouble not when we ask God difficult questions but, rather, when we stop asking questions.
We are not making any progress in our journey of faith. We are no longer seeking the truth that will make us free.
We can only understand that Jesus is the answer, if we ask the question.