Hosea 14:1-9; Mark 12:28-34
“After that no one dared ask him any questions.”
I’m not sure why. Jesus was simply agreeing with the man: to love God and neighbor is better than burning animals. Why would they dare not ask questions?
I don’t know. But I’ve got plenty of questions for the next time I see Jesus. What were you doing before the Big Bang? How did you come up with the design of the atom? Can you explain quantum mechanics? How long will I live? Why do you allow so much suffering in this world? Can’t you do more? I’d like to think I would dare ask questions.But the folks in the gospel don’t. They’re flummoxed by something. Perhaps it was an “aha” moment, a realization finally sinking in: to love is better than to burn animals. They may have just come from the Temple doing exactly that. Perhaps the deep resonance of the greater truth caught them off guard.
To love God and neighbor is better than Temple sacrifices. The inner conversion, the conversion of the heart to love is, as they say, what it’s all about. Religious practices can be an attempt to substitute something easier. It’s easier to take some birds or sheep to the Temple. It’s harder to love God and love neighbor and love ourselves. It’s harder to set out on the way of genuine conversion.
Before we judge the scribes and Pharisees too harshly, we might reflect on our own religious practices, our own spiritual disciplines. We might dare ask ourselves some hard questions. What are we doing, perhaps quite faithfully, that is easier than loving? Are our religious practices strategies of evasion? Are our spiritual disciplines “tithes of mint and dill and cumin” while we neglect “weightier matters of the law”? [Matthew 23:23]
Love is the thing, of course. We know that. We don’t know it well enough, but we know it. Love is the thing, of course. Because in loving we have God himself. In having God we have all that matters most. Any substitution for God himself is a distant second-best.
We know this, but we don’t know it as much as we shall know it. You shall love God with your whole heart, he says, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. You will, you’re going to.
Next time we see him, he may dare ask questions of us. One might be, “do you know how little you love? Do you know how much you are going to love? Wait until you see what I shall do in you! Can you be patient with yourself and your neighbor—and with me–until I finish my work in you? Your ‘beauty shall be like the olive tree, and [your] fragrance like that of Lebanon’.”
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