Daily Reflection
March 31st, 2000
Carolyn Comeaux Meeks
Grants Administration Office
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Hosea 14:2-10
Psalms 81:6-11, 14, 17
Mark 12:28-34

Today’s gospel has Jesus being somewhat cornered by a questioner who is used to parsing words and checking every jot and tittle. 

Now, picture this scribe.  I imagine someone who has reproduced many a parchment as part of his official duties.  He has seen the Books of Leviticus and Deutoronomy and other texts that are devoted to how, when, and why to do sacrifice of animals or gifts of grain to God.  This scribe has these words of Scripture almost engraved in his very hands, and has dealt time and again with the sacred minutiae of the strictures of a communal faith.

“What is the greatest commandment?”  Well, take your pick.  There are many to choose from.  But Jesus cuts to the quick, bringing it all back to the “Shemah,” the holy prayer that every Jewish adult knows by heart, then as now, and prays often.  These beautiful, compelling words of the Shemah are indeed a call to remember God as central in one’s being and one’s life.

Hear, O Israel.  (Pay attention: Focus)
The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
And you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
and with all your soul, 
and with all your mind, 
and with all your strength.

But Jesus’ answer gives the familiar Shemah with a twist. 

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Perhaps this scribe has seen the results of those who interpret the Shemah to mean that God asks for intensity rather than wholeness in our love.  Intense religious folks can get it wrong as they/we try to get it right.  We can mistake intensity for holiness.  The ardent, overfocused love of God that is not able to flow out to include others and oneself in its mercy and its understanding and its strength is not the kind of God-love that Jesus recommends.  Jesus stands on the shoulders of the great Jewish prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea—who made the same point over and over again. 

I relate to this reading because in my professional life for many years I myself have been a “scribe.”  This scribe of the story is looking for something new, something beyond the “boilerplate” he so often sees.  Perhaps he has grown cynical with the words he transcribes.  Perhaps he has seen the human tendency again and again to make the words fit the particular compulsions of individual egos.  Perhaps he has seen a few too many ardent sacrificers or Bible-quoters and far too few really holy people whose love of God overflows into lives that embrace the wholeness and holiness of life itself.

Mark’s gospel includes a concluding comment from this questioner:

You are right, Teacher….loving God and neighbor as self  “is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 

From a scribe who is about as familiar as any lawyer or ethicist of his day with the nuances of what is right/wrong, verboten/acceptable, anathema/orthodox, and what to do to have a perfect burnt offering—this is high praise indeed for Jesus’ teaching!  Jesus replies, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

This is a reminder to all of us who are trying to observe Lent as a time of focus, fasting, and such.  Fastidiousness (“burnt offerings and sacrifices” that are centered in us rather than God) is not what God asks.  I can relate to this out of a simple experience from just last night.  I had had a somewhat hard day after a weekend devoted to one too many commitments.  I was trying to help my young daughter get ready for bed.  I was distracted and not “there,” and she sensed it.  After nighttime ritual prayers that are usually guaranteed to produce the yawn that sets her on the path to sleep, I stayed as always for a few minutes longer.  But she didn’t drift off like she usually does.  She remarked after a few minutes, “I don’t know why, but I just feel sad right now.” 

That was a wake-up call to me (“Hear, o mother”).  I sensed my own dis-ease, my own distress from the day, my own tension.  I had things to do, but managed to re-focus, and said, “Come, get on my lap for a minute.”  She settled in, we hugged, I gave her quiet time with just me, now unharried, now focused with my whole self for just a few minutes on this awesome gift, this youngest child of mine, and then she slithered off on her own and went back to bed.  She yawned and mumbled, “I needed that,” turned over and snuggled with her favorite bear. 

I needed that, too.  Spontaneous gratitude for God’s revelation and for self-revelation through my child welled up in me.  Hear, O daughter:  The Lord your God is one God.  Bring your fragmented self, and your God can make you whole again….and this will overflow.

Click on the link below to send an e-mail response
to the writer of this reflection.
Online Ministries
Home Page
for Sunday
Online Retreat
Daily Readings Texts
from the
New American Bible
Daily Readings Texts
from the
RSV Bible
Spirituality Links
Saint of the Day
Collaborative Ministry Office 
Home Page
University Ministry
Home Page
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook