The Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost — is October 31, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 12:28-34

12:28 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?”

12:29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;

12:30 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.’

12:31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

12:32 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’;

12:33 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.”

12:34 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.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Last week’s Gospel reading was about Jesus’s brief time in Jericho, the place of His last creative miracle.

Jesus and His disciples then travelled to Jerusalem for Passover, where the events of Mark 12 take place.

We are now into our Lord’s Passion week, which we commemorate during Holy Week, just before Easter.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us:

The day before, on Tuesday, He had gone in and thrown out the bazaars of Annas, He had thrown out the buyers and sellers, the corrupt marketers who were extorting money out of people for animals they didn’t need, and overcharging them on coin exchange. They had turned it into a den of thieves, it had actually been that for a long time. Actually it had been that for centuries. Jesus had done the same thing at the beginning of His ministry, according to John chapter 2, when He went into the temple, made a whip and threw them out. He’s back three years later, the final week of His ministry, two days before His crucifixion and He does it again.

The people who run the religion in Israel are not happy about that, obviously. But they haven’t been happy since He showed up three years earlier and did it the first time. The Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel made up of 70 men, plus the High Priest who were responsible for the theology of Israel, at least in some measure, but more for the civil and religious life of Israel, they were in positions of power. And Jesus had set Himself against them by doing what He did to the temple, now the second time and also because He exposed their theology as apostate, their religion as hypocritical and their influence as damning. They were making sons of hell, He said. And He said that on this same Wednesday. But He had exposed them for the three years of His ministry in very similar fashion.

The Sanhedrin now is infuriated with Him. They’re not only infuriated with Him, the Sanhedrin being made up of Pharisees, Sadducees and certain scribes, most of whom would be Pharisees. Not only furious with Him because of His theology and His assaults on His religion, but because He had become so popular. He had banished illness from the land of Israel for the duration of His ministry. He had power over demons, power over disease, power over death, power over nature. No one had ever lived on this earth that could even come close to Him in expressions of divine power.

when He came into town and there was that great mass of several hundreds of thousands of people hailing Him as their potential Messiah. So not only were they being attacked by Him, economically, in the operation of the temple, they were attacked by Him, theologically, as He exposed them as apostates and hypocrites and spiritual frauds and fakes, but now they were being attacked in terms of their popular power because the crowds were all drawn to Jesus. His popularity threatens them, threatens their power, their position and their income.

In response, they want to discredit Him. They – they don’t know how to get rid of Him. They want Him dead. But they’re afraid of the people because He’s so massively popular. They can’t just wander in and execute Jesus because the crowds would turn on Him. They have to find a means to get the people to turn against Him, and also to get the Romans to see Him as an insurrectionist, somebody amassing an army against Rome, and execute Him for rebellion against Caesar. So, they unpack some of their traps. They try to entrap Him with a series of questions.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises these theological tests:

In this chapter, we have, I. The parable of the vineyard let out to unthankful husbandmen, representing the sin and ruin of the Jewish church, Mark 12:1-12. II. Christ’s silencing those who thought to ensnare him with a question about paying tribute Cæsar, Mark 12:13-17. III. His silencing the Sadducees, who attempted to perplex the doctrine of the resurrection, Mark 12:18-27. IV. His conference with a scribe about the first and great command of the law, Mark 12:28-34. V. His puzzling the scribes with a question about Christ’s being the Son of David, Mark 12:35-37. VI. The caution he gave the people, to take heed of the scribes, Mark 12:38-40.

MacArthur directs us to Matthew’s Gospel to see what happened before the scribe in today’s reading approached Jesus:

First came the Pharisees, then the Sadducees, and now this scribe. But you need to know the preliminary to this. There was a meeting held by the Sanhedrin. Matthew tells us about that. Matthew has a parallel passage to this very important text, as you know. What we learn from Matthew’s parallel text, Matthew 22:34, is “they were gathered together.” The meeting of the Sanhedrin reconvened again because the first two traps were utterly unsuccessful.

Both groups have been left stunned and speechless and had gained no ground at all. In fact, they had just become those who aided the showcasing of the brilliance of Jesus. The whole thing was counterproductive. So now they meet again. And it’s important to make that comment from Matthew 22:34, “they were gathered together,” because it’s a fulfillment of a prophecy.

You say, “What prophecy is that?” It’s a prophecy in Psalm 2 in verse 2. In Psalm 2, verse 2 says, “The rulers take counsel against the Lord and against His anointed.” You say, “Well wait a minute, that could have happened a lot of times in history. How do we know that Psalm 2:2 is a prophecy that’s fulfilled here?”

We know that because of Acts chapter 4, Acts chapter 4. Here we have Peter and John and the apostles being arrested. And when they were released in verse 23 – this is after, of course, our Lord’s resurrection and ascension and the Day of Pentecost – “They went to their own companions, reported all the chief priests and elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voice to God with one accord and said, ‘Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your father David, Your servant said’ – and this is a quote from Psalm 2 – “Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ?” ‘”

And then comes the interpretation of that prophecy. ‘For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.’” And so here the apostles, Peter and John, say that the fulfillment of Psalm 2:2 occurred when they gathered together against Christ. That would embrace the gathering of the Sanhedrin. That would embrace the gathering of the false trials before Annas, before Caiaphas, before Pontius Pilate and Herod, and even the Roman complicity in the death of Christ along with the people of Israel. Verse 28 says, “all of them together were only doing whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

Returning to today’s reading, a scribe was among the Sanhedrin, who were disputing amongst themselves, and seeing that Jesus answered their questions correctly, asked which commandment was the first of all (verse 28).

Henry posits that the scribe was sincere with his question:

we have reason to hope that he did not join with the other scribes in persecuting Christ; for here we have his application to Christ for instruction, and it was such as became him; not tempting Christ, but desiring to improve his acquaintance with him.

MacArthur says that the Sanhedrin put this man up as their spokesperson for this test:

the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t agree on what was divine Law, but they both did agree that Moses’ writings were divine Law; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. They all agreed that is the Law of God. So the Sanhedrin comes up with a question they can all agree to. What is the greatest commandment or what is the most important commandment, what is the foremost commandment.

And their hope is that He’s going to give them something that is not found in the Law of Moses, something that supersedes Moses, something above and beyond Moses.

There is another aspect to this question. Mosaic law is comprised of 613 laws. It would be impossible to obey them all, so tradition dictated a pick-and-choose approach. It is no surprise then that they wanted to know what the foremost commandment in importance was.

Jesus answered, quoting the most revered prayer of the Jews, the Shema (verses 29, 30). ‘Shema’ means ‘hear’, which is the first word in the prayer. There is only one God and you shall love Him with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

This is from Deuteronomy, which focuses on this commandment, worded and reworded in various ways. This was the last book that Moses wrote. It was guidance to the Israelites on how they must conduct themselves in the Promised Land.

This commandment in the Shema is an internal one, not an external one of animal sacrifices, tithes or cleanliness.

MacArthur explains:

… the intellectual, emotional, volitional and physical elements of personhood all combine to love the one true God. It is an intelligent love, it is an emotional love, it is a willing love and it is an active love. It is an all-consuming love. Back in to Mark 12, just to show you how the words are all repeated, “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And the addition of those words “with all” every time is to lay out the emphatic nature of this comprehensive whole-hearted love. We might say that God’s whole-hearted love toward us should not be returned with a half-hearted love on our part.

Jesus continued, saying that we must love our neighbour as we love ourselves, concluding that there are no two commandments greater than these (verse 31).

This follows the construct of the Ten Commandments, the first four of which relate to God and the next six to the way we are to honour and treat others.

MacArthur says:

Why does He come up with these two things? Because there’s no other commandment greater than these. And our Lord also said, “On these two, hang all the law and the prophets.” The Ten Commandments are connected to this. The first four are about loving God. You don’t have any other God. You don’t make a false idol. You don’t take His name in vain. And you remember to worship Him. That’s loving God.

And to ten, it’s about loving man. You’re respectful to your parents. You have respect for authority, you have a respect for life, you don’t kill people. You have a respect for moral purity, you don’t commit adultery. Respect for others’ goods and rights, you don’t steal. You have respect for what is true, you don’t lie. Have respect for what God has provided and you’re content, you don’t covet. All that has to do with man to man. The first half has to do with man to God, then man to man, so that these two commandments are simply a summarization of the whole law.

There are only two possibilities; God’s laws that relate to our relationship to Him, and His laws that relate to our relationship with others. This is the – the genius of our Lord. In these two commands, He has said it all. It’s all gathered up in those two commands. Stunning. Love Me, love others. Even your enemies, Matthew 5:43 to 48, not just your friends, not just your brothers, but love your enemies and you’ll truly be the children of your father. Love others.

The scribe rightly responds that Jesus is correct (verse 32) and that obeying those two commandments are more important than any and all burnt offerings and sacrifices (verse 33).

Henry reminds us that some of the Sanhedrin considered burnt offerings and sacrifices to be more important:

There were those who held, that the law of sacrifices was the greatest commandment of all; but this scribe readily agreed with our Saviour in this–that the law of love to God and our neighbour is greater than that of sacrifice, even than that of whole-burnt-offerings, which were intended purely for the honour of God.

When Jesus heard the scribe’s reply, He commended him for it, saying that the man was not far from the kingdom of God; this exchange put an end to the Sanhedrin’s theological tests (verse 34).

What was Jesus saying? The scribe now needed to believe that He is the Son of God.

Henry says:

What became of this scribe we are not told, but would willingly hope that he took the hint Christ hereby gave him, and that, having been told by him, so much to his satisfaction, what was the great commandment of the law, he proceeded to enquire of him, or his apostles, what was the great commandment of the gospel too. Yet, if he did not, but took, up here, and went no further, we are not to think it strange; for there are many who are not far from the kingdom of God, and yet never come thither. Now, one would think, this should have invited many to consult him: but it had a contrary effect; No man, after that, durst ask him any question; every thing he said, was spoken with such authority and majesty, that every one stood in awe of him; those that desired to learn, were ashamed to ask, and those that designed to cavil, were afraid to ask.

MacArthur thinks that the scribe left it there — so close and yet so far:

… that’s good, but not good enough. Near isn’t good enough. You must enter, you must enter, you must enter by faith in Christ, in His death and resurrection. But in what sense is this man near? He’s near because he understands that it’s an internal issue, not a ceremonial ritual issue.

Although the Sanhedrin stopped for the day, they still were not finished with their goal of ending our Lord’s life.

MacArthur says:

They will get there. And by Friday, they’ll have those people screaming for His crucifixion.

MacArthur has a good response to the question of what it means to be a Christian:

When somebody asks you, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” It means to love the Lord your God with all your entire being. We know the one we love, do we not? Because He’s disclosed Himself to us in Scripture. He’s worthy of our love. He’s worthy of far more love than we will ever be able to give Him. Joshua 22:5; Joshua 23:11; when Joshua gets his opportunity to speak, he calls for the same thing. He heard Moses and he understood what he said and he calls on the people to do the same thing, to love God, to love God.

The apostle Paul reminded us to let our love abound more and more in all knowledge. And I think our love for God is connected to knowledge. The more you know about God, the more there is to love. Is that not true? Your love is in correlation to the revelation of God which you know. The more you know about God, the more there is to love Him.

We can love God only imperfectly because of our fallen nature. However, we should strive to love Him more and more as we grow in our Christian journey. Reading and studying the New Testament is a perfect way to achieve that, through our knowledge of Christ.