October 31, 2021
XXXI Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Last Sunday we saw Jesus leaving Jericho, where He meets and heals Bartimaeus, who then proceeds to follow Him along the way (Mk 10:46-52).
The context of today’s passage is entirely different: the going up to Jerusalem by Jesus is completed. Jesus has made His solemn entry to the holy city and entered the temple (Mk 11:1-11). Here He meets different groups of Scribes, Pharisees, elders, Sadducees, Herodians, who put questions to Him, and they give rise to discussions about them. What we hear today is the third of these disputes, and it’s posed by a Scribe who, unlike the other interlocutors, seems to be a man in good faith, who does not approach Jesus to cause Him difficulty, but to dialogue: he is a listening man.
The question that he puts to Him is a fundamental one, and the encounter closely resembles what we saw last Sunday, between Jesus and the rich man, who is seeking for the essentials of the Law, the essentials of life (Mk 10:17-22). And the question is this: among the many elements that form the religious world, that concerns our relationship with God, what is the most important? What is essential, except what you can say about having met the Lord?
The answer of Jesus is direct and straightforward, just as direct and simple was the question.
First of all, Jesus does not invent anything new: He merely cites the Scripture, because the answer to the question of life is already there. We must not invent, we must not create it, we must only search in the Word, we must recognize: even Jesus receives it from the Father.
Precisely for this reason, the first attitude is listening. Jesus cites the fundamental Hebrew prayer the Shema’, (Dt 6:4), and He puts it at the foundation of an authentic relationship with God, as to say that there is no possibility of living some experience of God, there is no possibility of a full and authentic life without listening. Listening is the door, without which we cannot enter the house, it is the basis of discipleship.
Because listening is to think in a relationship, and to open up to the other; it is coming out from one’s individualistic attitude, from one’s narrow mindset, to enter the perspective that what saves me can only come given by another. It is to provide the primacy to another that is not me. Listening is accepting the gift that I do not have, and which I lack for living, because man lives by what he hears.
Listening is therefore already an attitude of faith: if we listen, we discover that there is one thing alone necessary, we find out that the Lord is one, is unique, and we entrust ourselves to Him for our life.
We turn to the rich man encountered in the last tract of the journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem: he had gone to meet Jesus, calling Him “good” (Mk 10:17), but then he went away sad because he had many “possessions” (Mk 10:22). Here it’s about the problem of faith: everything is in recognizing that God is not only good but that He is the only good (Mk 10:18), that He is the one good. Only then do we go there to follow Him.
But to what do you listen? What does God say? God, Who is one, essentially says only one thing, that is that life is loving. That the entire relationship with Him does not consist in anything else than this; it is not about service, duty, sacrifice, anything else, except this.
Jesus cites two passages of the Old Testament, one regarding love for God and the other love for neighbor. In the Bible are two long texts among them: the first is in the Book of Deuteronomy (6:4-5), the second in Leviticus (19:18). Jesus puts them side by side and makes an exciting combination.
He says in fact that God is one, but that it’s not enough to love Him. The Scribe asked Him the first commandment, but Jesus answers him that there is no first without the second. And that is that the true way for loving God, honoring Him, is to love the brethren.
But He also says that it is not possible to love our neighbor if we do not first love God and if we do not do it with all that we are. That is the fundamental truth of our faith.
Now, the Scribe seems to agree precisely with the words of Jesus, but this is not enough. Jesus praises him but tells him that something is still missing. He is not far from the Kingdom, but he is not in it. What’s missing? He fails to enter, and to do what the rich man was called to do: to leave everything to follow the only good.
Because it is not enough to have understood: we understand many things, but our life does not change.
It changes instead when we obey what we recognize as the one thing necessary, that is when we love.