29 March, 2019

The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’

~ Mark 12. 32-33 ~

This is one of the rare occasions in the Gospels where Jesus and religious officials see eye to eye. And no wonder.

Anyone familiar with the Prophets, particularly those who lived and wrote before the exile in Babylon like Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah and First Isaiah (i.e. the source of Isaiah Chapters 1 to 39), will see how the scribe speaks out of a tradition that while not against religious rituals like animal sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple sees justice and true faith as the priority.

By Jesus’ time the Jews had lived through exile in Babylon and had mostly thrived – so much so that scholars agree that it was a minority of them who returned under Persian rule to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. While worship there was re-established, the faith took on two important aspects. One was, certainly, focused on the Temple, but the other – the religious practice of most Jews outside Jerusalem, including Jesus – focused on the local synagogue. The latter form was strongly based on ethics and maintaining ritual purity, e.g. rules of diet and regular prayers.

In his mission Jesus did not abolish such practices; rather he sought to reform them according to the spirit of the Law, as opposed to obsessive legal literalism. He sought to get his followers to see what was behind these laws, getting to their deeper meaning, and applying them to the lived reality of people’s experience. His point is beautifully summed up in his observation that the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath.

This remarkable unnamed scribe is an important reminder to us not to assume that all religious leaders are cut from the same cloth, particularly legalistic cloth. Jesus was not alone in his mission to reform religion and social practice.

What should we make of this today? I think the strongest message is that, like Jesus and his friendly scribe companion, we need to go beyond narrow religious literalism, beyond legalistic thinking, beyond blind adherence to the ‘tried and trusted’, and discern new ways of living our belief in our time and circumstances. We need to get back to the threefold essence of faith (all faiths, I would add) – love of God, love of neighbour and love of self – and draw on our faith traditions as a resource for living a holy and good life.


Lord, Give me the grace to love. Help me not to judge others, but rather love them as you did. Help me to love myself. Thank you for loving me. Let me love you in return. Amen.


Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

Reflection prepared by and

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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