32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:
33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
The scribes and Pharisees were always testing Jesus. This time, in order to trap him, the scribe asked which was the greatest commandment? At that time, there were hundreds of commands that the Pharisees imposed on the Jews. Jesus did not fall into the trap, but quoted the two great commandments. Unlike the story in Luke’s Gospel, the scribe does not try to justify his question. The scribe’s answer in Mark’s Gospel differs from the answer in Matthew and Luke by saying that keeping these two commandments is more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices one might offer to please God. No matter what we “give up” or do as penance for sins, or to earn favor with God, if we are not putting God first and loving our neighbor, then we are failing. We can’t earn God’s favor and we can’t earn heaven. Jesus is our Savior, we can’t save ourselves. Salvation is a pure gift from God. In the letter of James, we read that faith and good works go together. Because we believe in Jesus and want to spend eternity with him, we choose to follow him and live a life based on loving others. This love of neighbor then encourages us to do good works as God wants us to do. If the only reason we do good works is to “earn” heaven, we are the same as those who offered sacrifices to please God without keeping the commandments. God knows what is in our hearts; he knows why we choose to act the way we do. He knows if we are acting out of love or not. If our intentions are pure, as the scribe described, then we too will not be far from the Kingdom of God.
Lord, we say that we believe and we say that we want to follow you, but we don’t always live as you would have us live. Please give us the strength to follow your commandments of love of you and of our neighbor. Amen.