A Provocation: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 26 (31): October 31, 2021: Mark 12:28-34

18 And they came, 
toward him, 
     (those who say there is no resurrection), 
and they kept asking him; 
     they said: 
          19 Teacher, 
          Moses wrote to us: 
               If someone’s brother should die 
                    and leave a wife 
                    and should not discharge a  child, 
               his brother should take the wife 
                    and raise seed to his brother.  
               20 Seven brothers there were.  
                    And the first took a wife. 
                         He died;
                         he did not discharge seed.  
                    21 And the second took her,
                         and died without leaving seed, 
                    and the third the same way
                         22  None of the seven discharged seed.  
                    Last of all, also the woman died.  
                    23 In the resurrection 
                         (whenever it is that they would rise) 
                    of which of them will she be wife?  
                         for the seven had the same wife. 
      24 Jesus said to them: 
          Isn’t it on account of this you are deceived:
               you know neither the scripture nor the power of God?  
          25 For “whenever it is that they would rise” out of death 
               neither will they marry or be given in marriage.  
                    But they are like angels in the heavens.  
          26 Concerning the dead, 
               that they are raised, 
          don’t you read in the book of Moses 
               (the part about the bush) 
          how God said to him: 
               I AM the God of Abraham 
                    and the God of Isaac 
                    and the God of Jacob?
                         27 God is not God of the dead but of the living.  
          You are very much deceived.  
28 One of the scribes approached. 
He heard them arguing;
he saw how beautifully he answered them; 
     he asked him: 
          Which is the commandment, 
               the first of all?  
     29 Jesus answered: 
          First is: 
               Hear Israel: 
               The LORD your God, the LORD is One, 
                    30 and you will love the LORD your God 
                         out of the whole of your heart
                         and out of the whole of your life 
                         and out of the whole of your mind, 
                         and out of the whole of your strength.  
          31 Second, this: 
               You will love your neighbor as yourself.  
          There can exist no commandment greater than these.
     32 He said to him 
     the scribe did: 
          Beautifully done, Teacher, 
          based on truth you spoke: 
               “One there is, 
               and there cannot be another 
                    except God,” 
          33 and 
               “to love God 
                    out of the whole of the heart 
                    and out of the whole of the understanding 
                    and out of the whole of the strength…”
               “to love the neighbor as oneself…”
          This exceeds all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.  
34 Jesus, 
seeing that he answered rationally, 
     said to him: 
          Not far you are, 
          not far from the dominion of God.  
And no one any longer dared to question him.  

A Question or Two:

  • So, was Jesus a Pharisee?
  • He surely is NOT a Sadducee.

Some Longer Reflections:

For a longer exploration, see my Provocation on Mark 12:28-34 from 2018: https://provokingthegospel.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/a-provocation-twenty-fourth-sunday-after-pentecost-november-4-2018-mark-1228-34/

Just one thing catches my eye this year.

               Hear Israel: 
               The LORD your God, the LORD is One,

Observant Jews recite the Shema every morning and every evening, and hope to speak these words again at the moment of death. And it all starts with the words that Jesus says in answer to a question about Torah. This is not surprising since, as Paul Fredriksen notes, Jesus is himself an observant Jew.

Of course, behind the word “LORD” is the Divine Name, which is used to indicate the activity of the Mercy Attribute, that key aspect of God that calls, chooses, nurtures, and forgives. The first phrase in this affirmation makes it clear: for Jewish faith, the God that regulates the world is a God whose Name is Mercy.

And then comes the part that catches my eye: The God whose Name is Mercy is One.

Read this carefully. This does NOT mean that only the chosen few have access to God’s Mercy, no matter how often this is asserted by narrow ideologues (many of them Christians). The Oneness of God reveals God’s centrality, not exclusivity. The Jewish affirmation of God’s Oneness makes the point that God is a Singularity. Think of the attractive power of a black hole. All matter and all energy is drawn to the singularity. The Shema says that God is the same: for all the differences in the ways we speak of God (even among just Jews!), still God is One, and that Oneness consists in Mercy.

This understanding has deep roots in Jewish faith. The Noachide Covenant (made between God and Noah) does not expect people who are not Jewish to convert. This Covenant simply expects non-Jews not to act like idiots: no idolatry, no cursing God, no murdering, marital unfaithfulness, no stealing, and don’t eat meat torn from a living animal. And, while you’re at it, establish courts of justice. These are sensible and accessible requirements for people who have no real idea what keeping kosher might entail. And the hopes rising out of the work of Second Isaiah point to the gathering of all people, Jews and non-Jews, all of us together gathered by the Mercy of God. This is even the substance of the song sung by the sky-ful of angels at the birth of Jesus (gospel of Luke):

Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ 

καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας. 

Glory in the highest [places] to God; and on earth peace among people who are either characterized by good will or who approved by God. Or it could be both, and that would make sense, given the Noachide Covenant: people of good will don’t act like idiots and are thus approved by God. The angels do not expect that this peace will only come to some small group. The angels sing peace to all people of good will. Their song, by the way, also replicates Jesus’ words about Torah: both God and neighbor are included.

But if the God who is One is a Singularity, a power of Mercy that attracts all of Creation, then our task as people of faith is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with the God whose Name is Mercy. It seems I have heard that somewhere before.

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