Mark 12:28-34 An Honest Question


Mark 12:28-34


A scribe asks Jesus the first honest question since his arrival in Jerusalem; together they summarize the heart of the commandments.


After all of his opponents have come forward with questions to trap him, Jesus encounters an honest questioner. In response to his question, Jesus puts aside his trickster ways and gives a traditional answer to the question of the greatest commandment. His answer corresponds to the shema, a prayer derived from Deuteronomy 6:24-25 in which observant Jews confess their allegiance to God and God only. Jesus goes further to add a second commandment, based on love for neighbor. This juxtaposition of love for God and love for neighbor is often seen as corresponding to the heart of the Ten Commandments which Moses received from God on Mount Sinai and which form the basis of all of Jewish law.

The scribe who asked the question agrees with Jesus’ formulation and adds an expansion that resonates with Jesus’ teaching as well. Drawing on the prophet Amos, the scribe elevates love for God and love for neighbor above sacrifices and burnt offerings (Amos 5:21-24). This interpretation meshes with Jesus’ actions in the Temple and it is no wonder that Jesus sees his reply as wise (12:34). Jesus approves his response, but with a qualification; the scribe is “not far” from the kingdom of God. The sticking point is Jesus himself; though the scribe has his legal priorities in order, he has not yet taken up his cross to follow Jesus.