Mark 12: 28-34
28 After hearing his discussion with the Sadducees and recognizing that he had answered them well, one of the Bible scholar approached Jesus to question him: "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 Jesus gave him this answer: "This is the first: Hear Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord, 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your understanding, and with all your heart, all your strength. 31 And this is the second: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no other command greater than these". 32 The Bible scholar continues, "All right, master, you were right to say that He is the only one, and besides Him there is nothing else. 33 Moreover, to love Him with all his heart, with all his capacity for discernment and all his strength, and to love the neighbor as himself, all this is greater than all the animal sacrifices and all the offerings to temple". 34 At that point, remarking that he had responded wisely, Jesus said to him, "You are not far from the world of God". And no one dared to question him.
The various faces of religion are not made to stay forever
Gospel commentary - Homily
Recently, Mohamed Morsi, the elected president of Egypt, said about the scandal provoked by a film denigrating Islam (The innocence of Muslims): "The freedom of men stops where the law of God begins". In other words, religion and religious laws have priority over everything human, including human freedom. What do you think? On the other hand, I remember an uncle who, wanting to exculpate himself for being a non-active Catholic and knowing my interest in the Bible, said to me: "Basically, what the Christian religion asks of us, it is to love one another, is it not?" In your opinion, which one of Mr. Morsi or my uncle is right? And if it was neither ... Let me explain by rereading with you the Gospel of this day.
A scribe or Bible scholar asks a question to Jesus about the greatest of all these commandments found in the Bible; don't forget, the commandments in Judaism can be as many as 613, 248 consisting of positive commandments ("do's") and 365 in negative commands ("do not do"). In this context, we understand the importance of setting priorities. You know the answer of Jesus which is divided into two parts: first the recognition that God is unique and the call to love him with all his being, a resumption of the prayer "Shema Israel" that a Jew recites morning and evening, then the love of the neighbor considered as another self. The scribe, finding in Jesus' answer passages from the Bible, hastens to support it with other passages. Jesus concludes that he is absolutely right, but adds that if he is not far from the world of God, he is not quite there yet. Question: but tell me, what is missing from this scribe who is very good?
To understand the answer of Jesus, one must first ask: why does he speak of a first commandment, then of a second? Is he in the process of prioritizing, so that the first goes before the second, and in case of conflict, the first one takes precedence? It would be bad understanding of the whole of his message. Let us note that Jesus does not speak at first of love of God, but of uniqueness of God: the Lord our God is the only Lord. What does that mean? When one says of a reality that it is unique, one asserts that there is nothing else of comparable. And in the case of God, we must admit two things: since God is a reality that we cannot experience directly, his understanding eludes us, He remains a mystery. Moreover, God being by definition an absolute, he can only be the only absolute, all the others being idols or false gods: power, money, authority, pleasures, honor, glory, laws, etc. Among idols or false gods, we must even add religion, when it claims to be an absolute whereas it is only a socio-cultural expression of a religious experience, even if the latter is truly authentic, but with all the limits of people who express it at this moment. Remember that earlier in the day Jesus cleaned up the temple in Jerusalem. Agreeing to live with an absolute who remains a mystery - so that one can never truly master - and eliminating from our life all false absolutes, all this is extremely difficult: talk to the Hebrews walking in the desert under the direction of Moses and asking to have a agrarian religion and to worship the golden calf, a reality they would master better than a God whose faces one could not draw. Yet, it is the essential condition for entering the world of love, the love of God and the love of others. This is why Jesus can not launch his invitation to love without first talking about the oneness of God. Let me explain more.
You know the "Big Bang" theory, at least you've heard about it. This is the most widespread theory in the scientific world to explain the birth of the universe, and especially to explain why the stars are continually moving away from each other, as if propelled from the same point, an original explosion. In the "Big Bang" there are two essential elements: first the unheard-of central energy, then the infinite space or emptiness that allows infinite expansion. If the "Big Bang" reflects something of God, we will not be surprised to find that it can serve as an analogy to understand the spiritual reality of God in our lives: everything starts from the center of ourselves, from the deepest of our heart. St. Paul writes: "The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. (Rm 5,5) Subsequently, human history becomes the expansion of this love that comes from God himself, in the image of the universe. Making possible this expansion requires space, and therefore the death of all false absolutes; for the latter are lying in saying, "I will quench your thirst, I will fill your needs, I will finally allow you to sit down and rest". This love is infinitely expanding just like the universe because it comes from God and can only be satiated by God himself. That is why "you will love the Lord your God" is the first commandment, it is the origin and the end of all that exists. On the other hand, no one has seen God, and therefore we can not really love a reality that escapes us. The first letter of John says this: "If anyone says,'I love God' and hates his brother, he is a liar: he who does not love his brother, whom he sees, can not love the God whom he does not see" (1 Jn 4: 20). In other words, the love of God necessarily passes through the love of neighbor. Thus, love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably linked: the only way to love God is to begin by loving those who are next to me. More specifically, seeking to discover the true needs of people and working on filling them is the way to God. To think of pleasing God by multiplying the so-called religious gestures is an immense illusion: "To love God with all his heart, ... to love the neighbor as oneself, all this is greater than all the sacrifices of animals and all the offerings at the temple", says the scribe of the Gospel.
We understand now the answer of Jesus. A human life, mine as well as yours, must become aware of all the false absolutes of his life and reject them as absolutes, and this is done by asserting that the Absolute is unique and in no way comparable to all that we know. This allows us to be attentive to what is roaring in our heart, like a huge volcano, an intense love that just wants to express itself, like the "Big Bang". This love has the dimensions of the universe and can only be satiated by the infinite of God, because it originates from God himself, but it can express himself only through the human beings we encounters and of whom we try to fill real needs.
In what way is Egyptian President Morsi, whom we talked about in the beginning, wrong? It is to imagine an opposition between religious laws and human needs: if religious laws oppose human needs, then they are idols or false absolutes, because true human needs take their source in God himself, and that includes freedom. In what way is my uncle, whom I also mentioned at the beginning, wrong in saying that the Christian religion boils down to loving one another? It is to reduce the Christian faith into a set of moral precepts to be respected. But, will you say, what is wrong with these magnificent moral principles of love? What is wrong is the false absolutes of principles. Love is not a question of principle, it is the surrender to what springs from the depths of our heart, a dynamic volcano whose lava does not follow paths traced in advance, but follows the meanders of the changing reality.
Last question: what is missing from the scribe or specialist of the Bible of which Jesus appreciates the reflection, according to the evangelist Mark? Two things. The first, he has not yet discovered that it is not primarily the human being who loves, but it is God who first took the initiative to love by intervening in our humanity, and that the command of love he names has a face, that of Jesus. The second, the love that flourishes will meet suffering and death, and that death does not contradict love, but opens it to an infinite dimension. This is what Jesus lived.
After saying all this, what do I want to remember from this Gospel of Mark? First, to be moved by the realization that the whole life of Jesus is the expression of the love of God, whom he called "dad", and of the neighbor whom he was constantly striving to have him stand up and be great. Then, what inhabited Jesus inhabits me as well. But this brings up the question: How far am I willing to surrender to this tremendous love energy, and thus to do a clean up of all my religions?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, October 2012