Lesson: Deuteronomy 6:1-9
1 Moses said: Now this is the commandment — the statutes and the ordinances — that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children, may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy is the fifth (and last) book of the Torah and is presented as Moses’ final speech to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land. “Deuteronomy” comes from Greek words that mean “Second Law” and is structured as a “restatement” of the laws found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Parts of it were revised as late as 450 BCE, but the bulk of the book is generally dated to the reign of King Josiah of Judea (640-609 BCE).
Today’s reading is central to the restatement of the Law and directed the teaching of the Law to one’s children, observing of the Law, and reciting the Law when one is at home or away (v.7).
There are practices to keep the Law in mind: the use of phylacteries holding an abstract of the Law tied on one’s arm and forehead (v.8) and the placing a small box (a “mezuzah”) holding a portion of the Law on the upper right doorpost as one enters a home (v.9).
The command (“Hear O Israel”) is called the “Shema” in Hebrew and is the central call to prayer in Judaism. This formulation of the First Commandment (Ex. 20:2-6) in verse 5 was cited by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (12:29-30) as the “First Great Commandment.” It recognized (as did the Decalogue) that there may be other gods, but that one’s allegiance must be only to YHWH. Consistent with the over-all theme in Deuteronomy, only by keeping the LORD’s commands would the Israelites prosper in the land promised to them (v. 3).
Epistle: Hebrews 9:11-14
11 When Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
The Letter to the Hebrews was an anonymous sermon addressed to both Jewish and Gentile Jesus Followers which urged them to maintain their Faith in the face of persecution.
Although the Letter to the Hebrews is sometimes attributed to Paul, most scholars agree that it was written sometime after Paul’s death in 63 CE, but before 100 CE. The letter introduced many important theological themes.
The author, in large part, interpreted the life, death, and heavenly role of Jesus through the category of the “high priest’ who perfected the ancient sacrificial system of Judaism which ended when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE.
The letter emphasized that Jesus (as high priest) was able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he (as a human) had been tested as we are. The presentation of Jesus as high priest in the Letter to the Hebrews is unique in the Christian Scriptures and reflected the continuing
process in early Christianity of developing images to describe who and what Jesus of Nazareth was (and is).
In verses 1 to 10 in Chapter 9, the author described the wilderness tabernacle of Ex. 25-26 and the sacrifices made there.
In today’s reading, the author focused on the “once and for all” aspects of Jesus’ death and Resurrection and emphasized that Jesus was both priest and sacrifice in the Crucifixion. The references to the Holy Place (v.12), the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of the heifer (v. 13) are a mixture of various sacrificial rituals in the Torah, some for cleansing ritual impurity for having touched a corpse, and others relating to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies.
The reading concluded with an allusion to the Second Coming – a theological recognition that not all of Ancient Israel’s (and the Jesus Follower Community’s) expected outcomes of the Messianic Age were accomplished in Jesus’ lifetime or even after the Destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.
Gospel: Mark 12:28-34
28 One of the scribes came near and heard the Sadducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you 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.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ — this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When 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.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is usually dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Today’s reading follows a dispute between Jesus and the Sadducees about future resurrection. The Sadducees were the priestly group (whose name is derived from Zadok, the High Priest under David and Solomon) who were scriptural literalists. The Sadducees rejected the idea of future resurrection because it was not in the Torah itself. The Pharisees, on the other hand, accepted the idea of future resurrection based on the authority of the “Oral Torah” or interpretations of the Law. These interpretations were eventually written down after the First Century and are incorporated in the Talmud. The Sadducees were trying to get Jesus to commit to one position or the other, but he sidestepped their questions.
Scribes were learned teachers and authoritative leaders who were drawn from the priests and Levites as well as the common people. Mark portrayed them as high officials, advisors to the chief priests, and teachers of the Law.
In Matthew and Luke (written 15-20 years after Mark), the Pharisees were presented as the primary opponents to Jesus. This was because the Pharisees, after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, were the only other group in Judaism (besides the Jesus Followers) to survive. For the next 30 years, the Jesus Followers and the Pharisees contested for the leadership of Judaism — including who would be able to use the synagogues, who would decide which scriptures were authoritative, and how to interpret them.
In Mark, the Sadducees and the scribes were the primary opponents of Jesus, and verse 34 is the only positive description of scribes in this Gospel. Jesus’ response to the scribe quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (one of the readings today) and Lev.19:18.
In Matthew’s account of this story, a Pharisee who was also a lawyer asked the question and verses 32 to 34 were not included. In Luke’s account, a lawyer asked the question, and tried to “justify himself” by asking “Who is my neighbor?” This led to the Parable of the Good Samaritan – which is unique to Luke.