4th Sunday before Advent 4.11.12 Mark 12.28-34

27 10 2012

A Wise Scribe

Today’s gospel describes brief encounter which goes very well for the scribe who initiates it. He asks a good question, ‘which commandment is the number 1 priority?’ and then engages well with the answer he gets. He does not simply say, ‘yes rabbi, thank you very much’. Rather he reflects the answer back, explaining how he sees it.  Jesus warms to this approach of intelligent dialogue and yet the result is that no one else asks questions. I wonder whether we need to ask why.

Mark 12.28-34

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ 32Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.


To help give shape to the reflection I am going to suggest three types of question: head questions, heart questions and hand questions. They are about our intellectual response, our emotional response and our practical or behavioural response.  I hope that you will want to work at all three levels. You might prefer to stay in one area. But beware of staying in your comfort zone. That’s rarely where profound preaching comes from.

‘Head Questions’

  1. What would your question be if you were a scribe who was impressed with Jesus?
  2. If you had chance for a 5-minute one-to-one with Jesus, what would you ask him?
  3. Suppose the scribe had asked you the question, what would your answer have been?
  4. What, in your view, is the third most important commandment?


‘Heart Questions’

  1. How have you felt when you have approached people who are arguing?
  2. How do you feel about the repetition of ‘all’ in the great commandments?
  3. How would it impact on you if the word ‘all’ was replaced with ‘some of’?
  4. What does the word ‘dared’ signify in the final sentence?


‘Hand Questions’

  1. For the scribe this was a very successful episode. How can you follow his example of asking a good question?
  2. What evidence can you give that you have lived a life consistent with the two great commandments over the last week?
  3. What can you do differently next week to align more closely to them?



These questions are intended to challenge you to engage more closely with the passage and to hear and feel what it has to say to you.  That’s more than a five-minute task. And so is the follow-up – working out what you might want to say to others as a result of engaging with the passage with head, heart and hands.  Take your time.

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity 2.9.12 Mark 7. 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

28 08 2012

Hypocrisy Guilt

We are back in Mark’s gospel. As today’s reading is an edited version of a passage I am showing the verses which the lectionary does not include in italics below. Just so that you can see what the congregation are missing.

Mark 7. 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’ 6He said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.”
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.’9 Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.” 11But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban” (that is, an offering to God)— 12then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, ‘Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.’

17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18He said to them, ‘Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, ‘It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’

Reflections and Questions

‘gathered round Jesus’ v 1

It’s the scribes and Pharisees who ‘gather round’.  And the words suggest a kind of intimacy, or at least real proximity.

How do you picture this scene?  What sort of intermingling to you imagine between the scribes, the Pharisees and the disciples? Might they have been sharing food, for instance?

‘they noticed’  v2

What a lot is revealed about us by what we notice – and what we fail to notice!

Might it be possible to recast this story in terms not of how people eat but what they look at, listen to or otherwise attend to?

‘you hypocrites’ v6

Jesus is not in word-mincing mood. He never is. ‘You are play-acting’ he shouts.

Hypocrisy is a real danger for anyone trying to be faithful to a tradition. And in today’s world, which prizes ‘authenticity’ so highly, many people have what you might call ‘hypocrisy guilt’. How might a good sermon both prompt, and minister to, hypocrisy guilt?

Edited verses

If you had been responsible for the Sunday lectionary, how would you have edited this passage?