A new mercy

A new mercy

Christ’s words to the scribe reveal to us the deepest core of the Christian life.

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:

At first glance, this text could appear out of place in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark. It takes place after three violent disputes between Jesus and the authorities of the Temple: the Pharisees (Mk 12: 1-12), the Herodians (Mk 12: 13-17), and finally the Sadducees. Furthermore, after it, Jesus strongly attacks the scribes of Israel and their authority (Mk 12: 35-40). Hence, it is strange to find a dialogue full of mutual respect and esteem in the middle of this verbal battle.

We can assume that it is a specific choice of St. Mark given an important element: even if this episode is present in all the Synoptics, the Second Evangelist is the only one who does not present it as an attempt to put Jesus to the test. On the contrary, the scribe speaks with Christ, impelled by His impressive answers and an appreciation of His teaching; on the other hand, Jesus acknowledges his wisdom.

From these elements, we can conclude that St. Mark has given us a specific message: even if Jesus is forced to fight against Jewish authorities until His death on the cross, this does not mean that there is no holiness in their teachings and rites. As we read in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Mt 5: 17-19), the whole Old Testament tradition is God’s Word, the history and wisdom coming from God’s self-revelation. It means that our duty, as disciples of Christ, is not to refuse it but to find its true heart; this is the only way to avoid making their own mistakes.

If this is the purpose of St. Mark, we can better understand the question of the scribe and the answer of Jesus. Exposing the first two most important Commandments of God, He identified the centre of the Law, the fundamental element which, if lost, becomes the cause of all the errors and perversions condemned in the same chapter.

To understand this message, it is important to consider that these two Commandments are actually one. Even if Jesus took them from two different passages of the Old Testament (cf Dt 6: 4-5 and Lv 19: 18), the Evangelist, through the prophetic synthesis of the scribe, shows us that they are part of the same movement, both based on love.

This statement is clearer if we consider both the hierarchy and the conditions of each Commandment. The first is, obviously, to love God; to do this, it is necessary to give ourselves completely to Him; this is possible only by following His Commandments, but considering them not as a cage for our freedom but as a way to participate in God’s Will. To understand the second one, it may be useful to consider the context of the Book of Leviticus from which Jesus has taken it: to love our neighbour as ourselves is a condition to avoid the temptation to respond to the evil of our brethren with hatred and violence (cf Lv 19: 17-18). It means that mercy is the heart of this precept. Indeed, the only person in the world to whom we easily forgive every sin, demonstrating a deep and charitable understanding, is ourselves.

Consequently, to love another person as oneself means extending this mercy to our brothers. It can be said that it is another way to explain what Jesus replied to St. Peter: «Then Peter, drawing near to him, said: “Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Even seven times?” Jesus said to him: “I do not say to you, even seven times, but even seventy times seven times”» (cf Mt 18: 21-22).

But this extension of our mercy is possible only if we follow the first Commandment. In fact, only by loving God perfectly can we overcome the isolation of our souls caused by sin and consider other people as part of the same divine communion.

In any case, all of this is possible only by following Christ. St. Mark suggests this with the last sentence of Jesus: the understanding of the scribe of the true heart of the Law is only the beginning, something capable of bringing him close to the Kingodom, although not yet inside. Indeed, Christ is the only Way (cf Jn 14: 6) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven into communion with God in which our love becomes perfect. Only by following Him can the human being perfectly live the Law and perfectly love his neighbour.

If, on the one hand, this text shows us both the beauty and the imperfection of the Ancient Covenant, on the other hand, it tells us where, also in our time, we can find the deep core of our Christian life.

Br Giuseppe Filippini was born in Ancona, a small town on the eastern coast of Italy, on February 12th, 1987. He studied history, with a specialization in the Middle Ages, in the State University of Macerata; during this period, after long years spent without faith, God called him to His Church and to religious life in the Order of Preachers. After a long and precious time of preparation, he made his solemn profession on September 11th, 2021. He is now studying theology in Bologna. In addition to history, his interests are literature, cinema and different forms of popular culture; moreover, he is also an amateur writer.

Comments (2)

  • Margaret Connolly

    This is a really helpful exploration of the two pieces of advice. I liked the understanding of how easy it is to self justify, while being much harder on the annoyance of other people. Thank you ! A good thought to carry around with me.

  • Margaret Connolly

    But then, there are those who go in for masochistic flagelation and hair shirts… if this is how they treat themselves, how might it reflect on the way they treat others? …….a second comment after thinking further ! Thanks for the interesting and stimulating words!


Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.