Today’s reading is Mark 12:28-34:
One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, 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 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.
“Love the Lord your God… [and] love your neighbor as yourself.”
If I had to explain Christianity in one sentence, that would be it. Being Christian is not just a one-time conversion, or the act of going to church on Sundays; being Christian is living a life that embodies the Greatest Commandment.
At this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He has been preaching and teaching in villages on his way, and continues his ministry in Jerusalem. While in the Holy City, he has done some pretty controversial stuff – he’s kicked the moneychangers out of the temple; he’s told the most influential religious leaders of the Jews that they’re wrong; he’s made a lot of important people mad – really mad.
After these events, many of the scribes want to find a way to dispose of Jesus, so they approach him in the temple to question him, trying to get him to fall into a trap so they can arrest him. However, in the midst of this discourse, here enters an honest scribe. He recognizes the truth and wisdom in Jesus’s responses to the other scribes, and decides to ask him an honest question.
Through this scribe’s honest, open search for truth, Jesus is able to deliver one of his greatest teachings.
Are we, as Christians, doing our best to embody the Greatest Commandment in our lives? This Lent, I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone – to live out the message of the Greatest Commandment, showing your love for God and neighbor by reaching out to serve your brothers and sisters in a new way. It’s easy to be lulled into the routine of day-to-day life. While it is important to shine Christ’s light in the lives of close friends and everyday routines, we must not confine ourselves to our “Harvard bubble”. As Pope Francis challenges us, we must “go out to the periphery” to truly embody our faith, serving those most in need of his mercy. We cannot segregate ourselves from the suffering of those who need Him most.
Let us not lose track of the Greatest Commandment as we journey through Lent. Lent is a time to become closer to God, to learn about and become more in tune with our Christian faith. So, this Lent, get close to God by going out to the periphery. Help serve a meal to the homeless. Stop and talk to that man you walk by every day on the street. Tutor a kid in a high-risk school district. Spend time with the elderly, the sick, and the dying.*
Yes, it is hard to make time for this service in the hustle and bustle of college life. But, let us ask ourselves: What is the true meaning of life? Where should our real priorities be? If we follow where the Spirit leads us, will He not provide for us? Perhaps we should not be concerned with being so “perfect” in worldly matters. Through service, we will become more fulfilled, growing closer in our relationship with God, and leading others to a closer relationship with God – and in the end, that’s all that really matters.
*If you’re not sure how to go about finding these things, feel free to reach out and I can get you in touch with someone who does! My email is kculbertson[at]college.harvard.edu.
Katherine Culbertson ’18 lives in Thayer Hall.