When the scribe asks Jesus, “which is the first of all the commandments?” he poses a real challenge: there are 613 commandments in the Torah, and he asks Jesus to pick just one. But Jesus knows that the commandment to love God is primary, so his response satisfies the scribe. Then he adds that they must love their neighbors as themselves. Again, in the scribe’s eyes, he got it right.
But Jesus’ response to the scribe can be puzzling: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And then we read, “no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Why was that? Perhaps they were asking themselves, what exactly does he mean by “not far” from the Kingdom of God? Is that a compliment? A statement of fact? Or a warning?
When the rich young man was told he was not far from the kingdom of heaven, he walked away sad. Sounds like he thought it was a statement of fact, and that he had no power or no desire to change that fact.
The statement at the end of today’s Gospel, that “no one dared ask him any more questions,” leads one to believe that they saw it as a warning, not a compliment.
“Not far” isn’t good enough, evidently.
What does “not far” look like? Do I love my neighbors, except that one next door who plays loud music late at night? Do I love my neighbors, except those who belong to a different political party? Do I love my neighbors, except those whose culture I just don’t understand?
Since someone like me, named Reilly, could hardly end this reflection for March 17 without invoking St. Patrick, I would like to propose that the language of the prayer of St. Patrick has something to offer those of us who realize that “not far from the Kingdom” isn’t good enough — and are looking for a way to move closer.
Here is a portion of that famous Breastplate of St. Patrick:
I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me.
God’s might to uphold me.
God’s wisdom to guide me.
God’s eye to look before me.
God’s ear to hear me.
God’s hand to guard me.
God’s way to lie before me.
God’s shield to protect me.
Eileen Reilly is a School Sister of Notre Dame (SSND) who coordinates outreach to Religious Congregations for the Catholic Mobilizing Network to end the use of the death penalty and promote restorative justice.