Since the beginning of time words of love have shaped the lives of the people of God. They have become a part of what we do, what we say, how we live out our faith, what we believe, how we relate to others.
October 31, 2021
You Are Not Far from the Kingdom of God
Mark 12: 28-34
Pastor Heather McColl
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?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
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’; 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.” 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.
You Are Not Far from the Kingdom of God Mark 12: 28-34
Three out of four Gospel writers have a version of this story in some way or fashion. And although each writer tells his particular version within a certain context, the fact that this story is repeated so many times by most of the Gospel writers becomes a clue for us as people of faith to pay attention. It becomes a signal for us that the text contains something important. And in this story, that something important is the keys to the Kingdom of God.
Simple, short, to the point. It is a call to love God with all our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Like I said, something important, something more significant for our communities of faith than having the best choir, or the largest membership numbers, something even more important than having the most humble, best preacher in town, something I know this community of faith finds surprising especially since your preacher embodies that statement perfectly.
In the midst of this faithful conversation between Jesus and the scribe, Jesus tells the scribe that he is not far from the Kingdom of God. To live out these two statements not as either or but rather as both/and shows us that as people of faith, the Kingdom of God is near, just waiting for us to participate in the bringing about of healing and wholeness for the people of God.
I’m not telling us anything we don’t already know as people of faith. We know what we are called to do. Yet we will be the first to admit that these are hard to live out in our daily lives. On paper, we see these commandments and say to ourselves, “Sure I can do this. But in practice, this is where we struggle.
Not because we are bad people. We struggle because there are so many things which clamor for our attention. We struggle because we encounter people daily which make us wonder if Jesus would make an exception in just this one case.
On paper, faith looks so easy. Yet in practice, we find out it is messy. It is complicated. It not just about me and Jesus. It is about us as a community. It is about relationships with people with which we don’t agree. Faith is about loving God with all our heart, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot practice one without practicing the other as well.
Let me explain: If we remember, in the chapter just before this one, Jesus rides into Jerusalem while the people wave palm branches and proclaim Hosanna. Then Jesus goes to the Temple, calls it a den of thieves, turns over tables and runs the money changers out. All of this is background for this text. There is tension between the powers that be and Jesus. It has been building up for some time now. The religious order does not like this Jesus fellow and they are just waiting for him to cause more trouble.
So as readers, it is no surprise that we expect trouble in this text, especially when we see Mark use the term “scribe”. We think we know what’s going to happen because this is not Jesus’ first tangle with the powers that be. From the very first line, we assume that there is going to be another showdown between Jesus and the powers that be.
But surprise… this story is not what we expect at all! The scribe doesn’t come to test or trap Jesus. No, the scribe is interested in dialogue. He is interested in engaging in genuine conversation, conversation which gets to the heart of the law. He simply asks, “What is the greatest commandment?”
In looking at Jesus’ response, we need to know that Jesus was not the first one to combine the two commandments. Rabbis and prophets long before Jesus had joined these two commandments in their words and writings. They had taken the two commandments… one about loving God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our strength and the one about loving our neighbors as ourselves, combining them so that they would become a foundational piece of faith for the people of God. They did this long before Jesus ever began his ministry in Galilee.
Mark taps into this tradition, this tradition of combining these two commandments when he tells his version of this story. Mark wants to show his readers of their commonality with others, to show them that they are more alike than they are different. Mark taps into the tradition of combining these two commandments as a way to balance how we live out our faith in God.
By continuing to have Jesus combine these two commandments, this becomes a way for Mark and for his readers, to be the people of God here and now so that the law does not lose heart, so that the rituals of our faith do not lose reason, so that our relationships with God and with one another do not lose love.
Mark wants to show his community that since the beginning of time these words of love have shaped the lives of the people of God. They have become a part of what we do, what we say, how we live out our faith, what we believe, how we relate to others. It has become a part of who we are as the people of God so much so that if anyone asks us to sum up our faith in just one word we would simply say, “Love”.
Now again let me differentiate between types of love. When I say love, I’m not talking about the mushy gushy type of love. It is not the sacrine love that we often profess in the church which gets boiled down to “God loves you and so do I”. The love Jesus is talking about is authentic. It takes courage and strength to live out in word and deed. Because sometimes this love has us speaking up for the voiceless. Sometimes this love has us marching in the streets. Sometimes this love has us breaking down borders and welcoming the stranger.
As people of faith, our sacred story teaches us that our God is loving, steadfast, and faithful from generation to generation. As ones who worship God, we are called to reflect the character of God in all we do and say. We cannot separate our love of God from our love of neighbors. These are the lens through which we view the world, through which we interact with the world.
You see, this word “love” puts our life, puts our relationships, puts our hopes and dreams for all of God’s creation in a different light. It reminds us that there is another way beyond fear, beyond worry, beyond hate and hurt. It reminds us that the very foundation of our faith calls us to love our God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
And when we have this love as our guiding light, shaping everything we do and say, we soon discover that just like the scribe, we too are not far from the Kingdom of God. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, October 31, 2021 – You Are Not Far from the Kingdom of God Mark 12: 28-34