Mark 12 – Jesus is debating with the chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders. They’re walking through the temple courts. I imagine they’re somewhere on the South side of the temple, probably on the huge steps that led up to the Huldah gates and the temple’s main entrance. If not, they were probably somewhere in the maze of courtyards below, the busiest and most crowded area of the temple grounds. They’re going back and forth on all kinds of things: Jesus’ authority, the rejection of the Messiah, politics and taxes, marriage and the resurrection.
Then one of the teachers engages our Savior in a topic that really matters. This question counts. “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus answers with what he always said perfectly summed up every word of the Law and the Prophets: Love God and love neighbor. “There is no commandment greater than these.”
The teacher of the Law agrees. In a humorous way, only because we know Jesus’ true identity as the holy Son of God, he actually commends Jesus for his wise and true answer. “Well said, teacher. You are right.” (Duh! Jesus was there when the commands were given!) But he takes it a step farther. In fact, this teacher of the Law, a comrade of those who were questioning Jesus and attempting to trick him and trap him and get him out of the picture, takes it one huge, giant, leap forward. He makes the bold claim, to Jesus and in front of all his cohorts, that loving God and loving neighbor is “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
I imagine this teacher actually pointing to and gesturing toward the people and the animals and the altars, the priests and the books and the chants, that surrounded them in this scene. Loving God and loving neighbor trumps all of this, he says to Jesus. Loving God and loving neighbor means more, it is more, than anything that happens in here!
And our Lord — does he smile? Does he wink? Does his face break out in a massive ear-to-ear grin? — looks this teacher right in the eye and says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
I often wonder what Jesus was thinking at this point. “This man gets it! Here’s a guy who really understands! He’s in the middle of all the trappings of the religious establishment, he’s being blocked and detoured and slowed down and held back by all the rules and regulations and rituals and ceremonies, but he understands it’s not about any of these things! He gets it!”
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
When people asked Jesus about the Kingdom of God, not once did he ever say, “It’s that group over there that meets on Sundays for worship and Bible class.” When Jesus explained the Kingdom of God, he never once said, “It’s identified by those who take communion once a week on the Lord’s Day and sing acappella.” Jesus never told a story about the Kingdom of God and interpreted it by claiming, “You’ll know the Kingdom when you see two songs and a prayer and announcements either at the beginning or the end. Or sometimes both.”
Jesus always says the Kingdom is about hurting people being comforted. It’s distressed people being encouraged. It’s cold people being warmed. It’s the outcasts being brought in and made a part of the family. It’s God using his people to help other people.
The true marks of the Kingdom have very little, if anything, to do with what happens inside your church building between announcements and prayers. Instead, the Kingdom of God is grounded firmly in the weightier matters of justice and mercy and love and faithfulness. The requirements of living in the Kingdom are not keeping the rules as much as they are about acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before God.
Maintaining our institutional status quo is not necessarily the same as being faithful to Jesus and his mission. Being a member in good standing or a middle-of-the-road church is not necessarily the same as living under the reign of God.
Our King came into this world to sacrifice and to serve and to save. And that is the business of his subjects, too. When we get it through our heads that this calling trumps every other calling we think we might have as children of God and followers of the Son, then we are not far from the Kingdom of God.
Carley’s ten. Or at least she will be Thursday. We had her party at the house Saturday. A whole bunch of silly 4th grade girls. Kate won the limbo contest. Elizabeth took the hula hoop prize (although Carrie-Anne beat her later in a head-to-head). And then Whitney and I beat it for the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington and the OU-BYU football game.
Our great friend Glenn Branscum set up a bunch of guys from Legacy with seats in his suite for the game. And when I say seats in his suite, I mean huge, fat, oversized, reclining leather seats with armrests and cupholders. Most every one in the room was a big Sooners fan. That’s why they were invited. Of course, most every one of the 80,000 in the stadium were Sooners fans. And everything was great.
Until about halfway through the second quarter when it became obvious that OU has some serious offensive line problems and some major gaps in the secondary. It got really quiet in there when Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford went down with his injury near the end of the first half. Whitney was excited (“Darling, you can’t cheer an injury. He’s a real person” “But, dad, this is good for BYU!”), but most of the rest of our crew spent the last two hours of the evening in a dark, dark, depression. Brandon didn’t say anything or look at anybody. Paul chewed off all his fingernails and then started working on the coasters. Dillon was in a catatonic trance. Ken and Ada prayed the whole second half (I’m sorry, God is NOT an OU fan). And I spent those last two quarters trying to keep Whitney from rubbing it in.
Words can’t describe this stadium. I have a lot to say about it. Maybe nothing you haven’t already read somewhere else. But I’ll save it for later. My sincere thanks to Glenn and Karen and the Branscum family for setting us up with a fantastic evening together. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Always a blessing to see great friend Jimmy Mitchell. He and his youth group and sponsors from the Northside Church in Benton, Arkansas worshiped with us at Legacy yesterday after a weekend at Six Flags. “Hi” to Elizabeth and Jenniva. We wish we could have seen y’all, too. And update your blog, Jimmy!
Just six more days until the Cowboys kick off their season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And the second-best player in Cowboys history to ever wear #6 is Tim Seder. He was a kicker from Ashland who played two seasons in Dallas (2000-2001). He converted 72% of his field goals (36/50) during his tenure here and never missed a PAT (39/39). The interesting thing about Seder, though, is that he scored rushing touchdowns on fake field goals twice, once in each of his two years. I don’t have time to look them up. Who cares?
Yesterday’s #7 is quarterback Chad Hutchinson. Sorry, I just can’t go with Randall Cunningham, just like I couldn’t give the nod to Harold Carmichael a couple of weeks ago. Hutchinson entered the picture during Jerry Wayne’s brief period of fascination with baseball-playing quarterbacks. He preceded Michigan’s Drew Henson in Dallas by a season.
Hutchinson had played the 2001 season as a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals where he appeared in three games, allowing 16 baserunners on nine hits and six walks and a hit batter in a total of four innings of work. He gave up eleven earned runs and completed his MLB career with a 24.75 ERA.
And he didn’t fare much better with the Cowboys. Following a four-interception performance in a loss to Arizona, Jerry pulled Quincy Carter and handed his team to Hutchinson, promising that this pitcher from Stanford was the future. However, his first ever start, at Texas Stadium against the Seahawks on October 27, was overshadowed by Emmitt Smith’s historic breaking of Walter Payton’s all-time rushing mark. The Cowboys, as you recall, lost that day. And Hutchinson went 2-7 in his nine starts that year, completing 51% of his passes for seven TDs and eight interceptions. The second-best #7 in Cowboys history is just another mediocre quarterback in a revolving door of them since Troy Aikman stepped down nine long years ago.
I actually stumbled across this verse in Mark 12 not long ago, and the exact same thing jumped out at me. They’re in the temple, Jesus is debating with the Sadducees, and this Torah Teacher walks up, asks a question, and declares that those two commands are more important than all sacrifices. Wow! That takes some guts, especially considering the Sadducees could have had him charged for on blasphemy or some made-up charge like they did Jesus.
Equally interesting to me is in the same dialog in Mark 12, Jesus’ answer to the teacher’s question: he “mis-quotes” Deut 6:4-5. He adds in “mind” to the list of what you have to love God with, something not included in the Deuteronomy verse. As I thought about why he would do this, the answer also revolves around the Sadducees. While the Jews traditionally did not separate “mind” and “soul”, Hellenism did. The Sadducees had fallen for the trap of Hellenistic living and thus elevated the mind the center of the universe as the Greeks did. They separated their religious lives from their secular lives so much that the writer of 2 Maccabees records that the Temple priests “ceased to show any interest in the service of the altar; scorning the Temple and neglecting the sacrifices, they would hurry to take part in the unlawful exercises [in the nude] on the training-ground”. Yikes! And so Jesus, like the incredible teacher he was/is, inserts “mind” into the verse because God wants that too! It’s one of the most scathing outright attacks against at the Sadducees and I had missed it for a long time.
Thanks for the great post.
good work …