(Mk 12, 28-34)
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Almost, but not quite!
“Almost, but not quite” is a phrase we use to console those who missed the grade. It tells them that just a little more and they would have made it. It is a complement but hardly an accolade. A grade of 74 is almost 75. It is not yet enough to pass, nonetheless. Such is the grade of the teacher of the law who interviewed Jesus. “You are not far from the kingdom” said Jesus. He was almost in but not yet inside, unfortunately.
Why was the wise teacher still outside ? Because he knew the truth, but knew it only in his head. To be part of kingdom one must not only know the truth in one’s head but also to know it in one’s heart, that is, to live by it. The one “best in religion” is not really the one who has a grade of 95 in the test examination but the one who practices his faith. One may know the definition of love. But if one does not actually love what good is the knowledge of it ?
In the Gospel of Luke version of this episode the interlocutor would further ask “who is my neighbor?” Jesus will then answer with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Those who belong to the kingdom are not so much those who know as much as those who do! Are you in the kingdom? Or are you “almost in, but not yet quite?”
Fr. Paulson V. Veliyannoor, CMF