Proper 26: October 31, 2021
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Year B: Ruth 1:1-18; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:11-14; Mark 12:28-34
As a life-long learner, at least I claim to be, one of the things I constantly heard from teachers and professors was, “the only stupid question is the question that you don’t ask.” I told my college students the same thing when I was teaching political science. So, does our gospel reading today represent a wasted opportunity? – “After that, no one dared to ask him [Jesus] any question.”
I wonder if, by now in the Gospel, people were just scared of what Jesus was telling them. And if that’s true, what was so scary, so troubling that no one dared ask Jesus any question.
Perhaps we need to understand how far we jumped from last week’s gospel reading to this lesson. We skipped over almost two entire chapters of Mark. The events we skipped include times where Jesus gained many new followers and prepared to enter Jerusalem. We missed the passages where the chief priests and scribes heard what he was saying and “kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.”
The sad thing about the reluctance to ask Jesus any questions is that the discussion in today’s Gospel passage doesn’t seem to be a particularly threatening text. Jesus wasn’t talking about angels separating wheat and chaff. He wasn’t exorcising an evil spirit. He’s talking about love, the greatest love of all.
Maybe you remember that song, The Greatest Love of All, recorded by many – but the most famous version is by Whitney Houston. Linda Creed wrote the lyrics amidst her struggle with breast cancer. The words describe her feelings about coping with great challenges that one must face in life and passing that strength on to children to carry with them into their adult lives.
Jesus himself could have written the lyrics, of course, because Jesus is talking about love, the greatest love of all, the love between God and God’s people – the love of neighbor for a neighbor.
What could be more comforting than learning about how we should live in love? Would that the scribes, those versed in the law, had been full of questions. What would have happened if they had been asking for examples of how we could love our neighbor more and how we could love God more. But they didn’t.
Maybe they were too busy “disputing with one another.” But, that was a usual way that religious leaders of that culture learned and taught to lob questions at one another and hear the responses. You might even ask yourself what question you might like to ask Jesus.
In today’s passage, a scribe listened to Jesus’ answer and realized that Jesus answered the questions posed to him very well. So, the scribe asked his own question: “Which commandment is the first of all?” I inv
We know Jesus’ answer by heart. “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We likely say, “How lovely that thought is: Love God, love our neighbors. That’s what it’s all about. No problem.”
That is what it’s all about. But before we get too comfortable, we need to consider what loving God and loving our neighbor encompasses. Do we love God and our neighbor? Do we truly?
We must especially ask ourselves those questions when we see what’s happening in the world around us.
There’s clearly something missing about love when we hear about an airline passenger who, because a flight attendant bumped into him, gets up and viciously assaults that person. Likewise, there’s clearly something missing about love when we see violence, poverty, and hunger not only in far-off places but in our own backyard.
What don’t we understand about “love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, all with all your strength? What don’t we understand about “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I think these are essential questions. And if we believe what Jesus is saying to this scribe and the scribe’s response, we must admit that love is the answer. But the more profound question becomes how do we do it and not resort to the trite responses that we hear in the world around us about love.
To truly understand what Jesus is saying, we need to define what we mean by love. But, perhaps more importantly (because it’s so easy for us to get comfortable with the familiar), we need to define who our neighbor is.
Jesus answers that question in his statement: “Hear, O Israel.” He is talking to the entirety of Judaism; he is casting his net back centuries to the words of Deuteronomy.
By proclaiming “Hear, O Israel,” Jesus quotes what is known in Hebrew as the “Shema” (Deut. 6:4). The Shema is easily the single-most-important text in the Hebrew Bible; it defines the Hebrews as a people and perpetually reminds them of their place in relationship to God. It is the first prayer that a Jew prays in the morning when they awaken and the last prayer before bed.
Jesus uses this prayer, this statement of faith, to summarize what it means to obey the law. It’s an imperative statement. Hear. It is a command to the people to hear the words being said, internalize them, submit to their authority, and then live in obedience to this command. There is no room for ambiguity. Jesus is saying that agreeing with this commandment isn’t enough. He’s saying to do it.
Hear. Hear, my people at Saint Andrew’s. Hear, my people at Emmanuel. Hear, my people of the Shenandoah Valley. Hear, my people of the world.
Jesus is talking to all of us.
And the love he is talking to us about is not the kind of love we often think about today. Loving with the whole heart isn’t the romantic kind of love we find on greeting cards, in ads, or movies. Love incudes loyalty and sacrifice.
Jesus tells his followers that to love God is to be loyal to God both when it’s easy and difficult. We must be willing to be faithful to the end no matter what.
But even if we can wrap our minds around the concept of being loyal to God, we have to remember that this love, this loyalty, is bound up, as Jesus says in loving our neighbor. So we can’t choose to do one or the other.
Then, of course, comes the sticky part. Just who does Jesus mean by our “neighbor”? We know the answer: everyone is our neighbor, both those like us and those who are easy to love. But it also means those who aren’t just like us and those who are pretty difficult to stand, let alone love. That’s not always easy.
Our neighbors are also those we may never meet but who might be touched through our outreach and prayer. And guess what – the good news is that they might touch us.
Being brought face to face with that kind of love – maybe that was more than Jesus’ followers could fully comprehend, and that’s why they asked no more questions.
Perhaps they didn’t yet understand the depth of the love Jesus was talking about. Or maybe they didn’t yet understand love as Ruth did and as Naomi did. Some did, and others learned along the way, but others walked away.
So, what now? We may be perfectly willing to accept the full responsibility of this kind of love, but we’d like some guidelines. Jews seek to live out of Torah. Let the story of Ruth and Naomi strengthen your heart. Let the Shema strengthen your heart.
And how does this love of God and love of our neighbors deepen in our Christian faith? How do we live out love as described by our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry: “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate a baptism at Saint Andrew’s. Let the words of the baptismal covenant strengthen your heart. “Seek and serve Christ in all persons.” And let the words of Jesus strengthen your heart. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
 Mark 12:34, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)
 Mark 11:18, NRSV
 Mark 12:28, NRSV
 Mark 12:30, NRSV
 Mark 12:29, NRSV
 Mark 12:31, NRSV
 Book of Common Prayer, The Baptismal Covenant, p. 305.
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.