Scripture: Mark 12:28-34
Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
How do you know if you are not far from the Kingdom of God? What clues in your life dictate what old-time religion might call the “assurance of salvation?” In short, are you in? Or out? Personally, I don’t think complexities involved in the dance between faith and works, witness and service can be shortened to an “in” or “out” kind of question. I have been known to be a bit edgy about some things when it comes to the overwhelming love of God.
For that is what the crux of this passage in Mark comes down to. Do you love your neighbor? Do you love yourself? Are you able to give your entire self, mind, body, heart, and strength to living out the love of God wherever you find yourself? To everyone you meet? To the Earth and all her creatures? Here in this space, we have a reminder.
Here at this table, the ultimate lover: God, has given the ultimate gift: God’s self in Jesus, through the ultimate sacrifice: incarnational life and death on our behalf, out of love for us! And with the resurrection, Jesus brings us up out of our own dying moments into new life – not that we might just have it, but have it abundantly. To live an abundant life means to love life to the fullest, yes, but also to live life loving others fully, even as we are fully known and loved by God, no matter what we struggle with, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made, and no matter how we forget to love others or love ourselves.
Fortunately, we are given multiple chances in our lives to live into God’s love and become full participants of God’s heavenly kingdom here on Earth.
The Gospel of Mark describes, in this dialog with the scribe, a new kind of conversation beginning. It is markedly different from the previous questions and challenges the religious community has posed to Jesus in chapter 11 and the first part of 12. This scribe, no doubt present for all the preceding bait and hook, challenge, posture, and teaching that has taken place, must have been favorably impressed, for his question is not a trap, but a true quest. He asks,
“Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you 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.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
In an honor/shame society such as ancient Israel, part of the question/answer dialog in public was how honor became ascribed. The crowd is the one who determines who gains honor or shame in the ancient dance of give and take, question and answer. Notice what happens next: First, the scribe affirms what Jesus has said, second he addresses Jesus as “Teacher,” then parroting his words to show his own stance on the question, takes it a step further and expounds on an interpretation with far-reaching effects:
“32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘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.”
The crowd is now waiting to give its verdict. Who has gained honor so far? Jesus? The Scribe? Currently, it is a draw. Both have done well – quoting the law correctly and interpreting it with equanimity. Jesus, however, has an additional word: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Now the crowd makes its vote – in silence, no one dared ask Jesus another question.
Commentator Cynthia Jarvis makes some observations regarding the quality of this dialog I would love to see adopted by our contemporary social and political context. She writes,
“Because the scribe and Jesus were worthy theological opponents and clearly had regard for one another, they found themselves talking above the ideological divides and engaged in a kind of communication that had a redemptive ring about it…[it] is not a test but an invitation to the table of theological discourse” (my emphasis).
Jesus’ response has created a space down the ages for honest conversation not only across Christian divides, but also among Jew and Christian and Muslim. That the One we confess to be the Son of God confesses the oneness of God must cause careful interfaith listeners to draw near and reconsider the suspect monotheism of Christianity. That the One who has come to fulfill the law and the prophets not only voices this command but incarnates in heart and soul, in mind and strength, such undivided love must judge our every inclination to division in his name.”
With that as a backdrop, perhaps we can fully come forward as One in preparation to be filled at this table, God’s table, which is the symbol of God’s love for us; and the goal of our living out God’s love one to another.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Cynthia A. Jarvis, “Pastoral Perspective, Mark 12:28-34” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
Question for Reflection
We serve a living God. This week, look each day for the presence of God alive in the midst of God’s people and the creation God has made. Where is God at work, bringing people together for good?
Household Prayer: Morning
Holy God, on this new day, I give you thanks for all that lies before me and those I love. Guide us and keep us on the path that you intend. Help us to see the journey you set before us when the way grows dim. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Gracious giver of all good things, for all that has transpired in your world today, I pray for peace and quiet to come where it is most needed. I thank you for the work I have had to do and pray for those who have no work. I ask your presence now for rest and renewal, in safety and calm, that tomorrow I may again see your face in those I meet, in Jesus’ name. Amen.