(Ordinary Time – Cycle B)
The will of God finds its maximum and definitive expression in the twofold evangelical commitment of the love of God and of neighbor, which gives meaning and sense to all Christian existence and is at the same time the best antidote against the pharisaical casuistry of the law and the ethereal spiritualism that neglects concrete undertaking in life. Today Jesus offers us the fundamental key to fulfill the will of God, that “is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice” (Mk 12,33): integral love for God as only Lord and active and disinterested love toward one’s neighbor.
The first reading (Dt 6,2-6) recalls that the commandments of the old covenant were not oppressive or capricious norms imposed by Yahweh, but an expression of his concrete will of life and of happiness for Israel. The people were called to live in a relationship of love and of fidelity with the God that had liberated them from the land of slavery, and in the measure in which they fulfilled the commandments of the law they conserved their existence and their liberty (vv. 2-3). The known text of the “Shema” (vv. 4-6), that the pious Israelite recites daily, sums up all the law. The commandment, “Listen, Israel” expresses the condition of the people and the meaning of their vocation, which is to obey totally the word of God. So it is that as Yahweh is “One,” that is to say, is not divided in multitudes of forms like the Canaanite gods, the people are called to love him as their only indivisible and total love. From the fact that the Lord is one and only comes the imperative to love him with totality of person: “You shall love the Lord you God with all you heart, with all you soul, with all your strength” (v. 5). From the love of God one goes almost spontaneously to the fulfillment of the precepts: “Let these words I urge on you today be written in your heart” (v. 6). But the sphere of interiority is not abandoned. The bond between the two aspects (love of God and fulfillment of the commandments) are fastened in “one’s heart.” The love of the Lord with all of one’s heart is manifests in the observance of his words in one’s own heart. It would not serve anything to know and to listen to “these words I urge on you today,” if they do not take root in the heart first, to be meditated upon with loving intelligence and conserved in one’s memory in a way in which they come to be the principle that moves and guides all thoughts and actions.
The second reading (Hb 7,23-28) presents Christ as synthesis and perfection of the diverse aspects of the priesthood. To the contingency and temporality of the priests of the old covenant, is opposed the priesthood of Christ (v. 25); to its human weakness is opposed his total holiness (v. 26); to its insufficiency is opposed his uniqueness and totality (v. 27). Precisely for the reason the saving efficacy of Christ is absolute, while the priesthood of the Old Testament participated in the impotence, weakness and saving incapacity of the law.
The gospel (Mk 12,28-34) belongs to the conjunction of polemical accounts with which the ministry of Jesus in the gospel of Mark comes to an end. Jesus has finally arrived in Jerusalem and is confronted with the official Jewish representatives in a series of controversies about fundamental themes of the faith. In the text that is read today a “master of the Law” asks him: “Which is the first of all the commandments” (Mk 12,28). The question reflects one of the greatest preoccupations of Judaism in the epoch of Jesus, that looked to establish laboriously a “unifying principle” of the distinct formulation of the will of God.
The great Jewish masters intended to find and propose a standard that would have given unity to all divine revelation in its normative aspect, and for many centuries. It is sufficient to remember the intention of the prophet Micah in the 8th century BC, who wanted to synthesize in a phrase all of the will of God for men and women: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6,8). The master Hillel, 20 AD, had proposed this unifying principle: “Do not do to your neighbor that which you hate, this is the entire law. The rest is only explanation.” In the same way, a century afterwards, the famous Jewish master Akiba, commenting on Leviticus 19,18 (“love your neighbor as yourself”), affirms: “this is a great precept and general principle of the law.” It cannot be affirmed with precision that for the Jewish tradition the 613 precepts (miswôt), of which 365 were negative and 248 were positive, were placed all on the same level. Besides the juridical and formal distinction between grave and secondary precepts, small and great, general and specific, there always existed in Israel the preoccupation for finding a principle that would have given unity to the will of God manifested in so many norms and to establish a certain order and hierarchy.
The newness of the gospel, does not consists, therefore, in the fact that it established as unifying principle the supreme value of love. This is repeated frequently in biblical tradition and was taught without ceasing by Jewish masters. When Jesus affirms that the first commandment is “to love the Lord you God with all you heart, with all you soul, with all you mind and with your all your strength (Mk 12,30), he makes reference to the essential nucleus of the religious creed of the pious Israel that recites twice a day the Shema: “Listen, Israel, The Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with al you heart…” (Dt 6,5) (first reading). Jesus takes up the foundation of Israel’s faith and proposes it to his disciples as the first and the most important of the commandments: total and integral love of God as only Lord. The originality of the proposal of Jesus is found above all in the second part of his response, where he defines the second commandment with a biblical formula, taken from the “code of holiness” of the book of Leviticus: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lv 19,18). Jesus refers to the commandment of love of neighbor placing it at the same level as the first, in that it belongs to the same category of the unifying and fundamental principle: “There is no commandment greater than these” (Mk 12,31).
The radical perspective of totality that assumes the love of God and of neighbor, as unifying principle of life, becomes confirmed by the scribe’s response, who affirms that this twofold flowing of love “is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice” (v. 33). The love proposed by Jesus is not a simplification of the commandments of the law, but rather the key to all of the law. He does not want to present a norm composed of the two primary precepts in relationship to the others, but rather even more offer the perspective with which to live all the law in its deepest meaning. Only the love of God and of neighbor gives sense and value to human actions; only in love religiosity is a reasonable and humanizing experience. Jesus’ interest is not only in construction a scale of values, but carrying men and women to the root and to the essence of all ethical and religious experience: integral love of God as only Lord and active, merciful and disinterested love for the rest.