This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on November 1, 2015.
The scribe’s question about which is the greatest commandment occurs at the end of a battle of wits between Jesus and Israel’s religious intelligentsia (Mark 12:13-13:34). Each move and countermove intended to sharpen an argument, entrap an opponent, or slice through logical fallacies. In this contest, the Jewish establishment puts forward contenders from various teams—Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, and legal experts—all attempting to disarm and dishonor this small-town rabbi in front of a big-city crowd.
When we reach the final round of repartee recorded in Mark 12:28-34, what is striking about the exchange between the scribe and Jesus is its positive nature. Their dialogue lacks the rancor characteristic of Jesus’ other encounters with religious leaders throughout the Gospel of Mark. The scribe, a legal expert on the Torah and also on its oral commentary, approaches Jesus not with hostility but with genuine interest evoked after seeing how well Jesus had fared with his previous interlocutors. The civility that characterizes their discussion is an embodiment of the second commandment that Jesus chooses—“You must love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Would that such civility and graciousness in debate were more often encouraged today as an expression of loving one’s neighbor.