Friday, March 12, 2010

We attract more bees with honey than vinegar (Friday, 3rd Week of Lent, Mark 12:28-34)

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

* * * * * * * *

Not all the scribes and Pharisees were enemies of Jesus. Some of them asked him questions out of a real desire to learn from him or out of curiosity for what he might say next. Jesus was, after all, a very interesting person, and many found his ways and his words attractive and perplexing. This particular scribe who approached Jesus is one of those who probably merely wanted to ask Jesus a sincere question, to which Jesus of course obliges an answer.

He sums up the commandments in two very simple ones: love of God, and love of neighbor. There were two tendencies found among the learned men of biblical times, one was the tendency to expand the Law, and the other, to reduce them to their simplest and barest substantial expressions. This particular scribe may have belonged to this latter group, and thus when Jesus gave him a satisfactory answer, he calls Jesus , “teacher”, and says that his words were “well said”.

One of the truly wonderful things about Jesus was that there was tremendous sincerity in him. And it was a sincerity that found an echo in anyone, whether scribe, Pharisee, or tax collector, who approached him with the same sincere disposition. We may find Jesus criticizing the scribes and Pharisees on numerous occasions, but every so often, we find him speaking to them in almost friendly terms. Here was a man who knew how to call people’s attention when they needed reminding, but who also had a great deal of acceptance of anyone of any stripe or color.

Knowing who and what we are as followers of Jesus—as Christians, as Catholics—is important. We must be aware of our identity which makes us unique and different; and we must bear this identity with joy and pride—not “hide it under a bushel basket”. At the same time, however, knowing who and what we are—being cognizant and even proud of our identity—must never close us up to the richness and diversity of others. Neither must it make us lose sight of the need to be ever-respectful of others’ difference from us.

The surest way to attract people to Christ, and eventually lead them to him, is to develop an attitude of hospitality, warmth, respect, and welcome. We “attract more bees with honey than vinegar”. What is true of our ordinary everyday relationships is true as well of our “mission” to “win people for Christ”. The message we bring is important; but so is the manner by which we “package” it.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)