Our last scripture about the greatest commandment is found in the Gospel of Mark. Because I love the particular wording, I wanted you to read it in The Message translation (Mark 12:28-34:)
The Most Important Commandment28One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: "Which is most important of all the commandments?"
29-31Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these."
32-33The religion scholar said, "A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that's better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!"
34When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, "You're almost there, right on the border of God's kingdom."
After that, no one else dared ask a question.
When I began looking for the scripture references for this particular story, this is the last one I read and it gave me goosebumps! Can you imagine having a conversation with Jesus like this? You ask Him a question, you hear His answer. You repeat back to Him what you think He meant...how you understand what He is teaching. And then He says to you, "Yes, you are just about there! I think you get it!"
Like I said in the first post on this topic, I like to synthesize and summarize...I want to "get" the point. Whether it is reading a book, hearing a sermon or listening to someone present an arguement, I like to figure out the essential message that I can take away. What is the author/speaker trying to communicate and how does that apply to my life and understanding? When the speaker is God Incarnate, "getting the point" is even more exciting!
For those of you who have read this blog over the years, you may have noticed that I mention the Kingdom, with a capital K, regularly. Jesus spoke a great deal about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven and I am fascinated by what He was trying to communicate when He spoke, sometimes quite cryptically, about the Kingdom. Is the Kingdom now or later? Is it here or there? And what is this about it being "within us?"
My understanding over the years has grown and changed, but it boils down to this: the Kingdom is the way we are meant to live...the way we were wired to live, back when God created us in His image. God meant for us to be in relationship with Him and in harmony with one another, all under His rule and authority. When we decided that we wanted to be our own god, that perfect union was broken and we have been trying to find our way back ever since...both individually and collectively. Jesus came to show us the way home, both here on earth and later in heaven. The Kingdom is all about finding our way HOME, to the way it was always supposed to be.
The good news is, in my opinion, that we don't have to wait for heaven to experience the Kingdom. Signposts to the Kingdom are sprinkled throughout the Gospels, but I think our verse here in Mark says it simply, directly and beautifully. These two commandments point the way to our path Home to the life we were always meant to live. The way home, as the man in our story reminds us, is not through religious rituals (offerings and sacrifices) but through a passionate love for our God and for our neighbor. When we truly understand these two commandments, Jesus says we are right on the border of the Kingdom; we are almost there.
While the message is simple, it is certainly not easy. The world's ways are not Kingdom ways and sometimes it seems that we are so far from seeing God's Kingdom come. Yet, these verses encourage me. As I said, I'm a simple girl and I like to have it laid out for me. This path to the Kingdom makes sense to me, particularly because any glimpses I have seen of the Kingdom have come straight out of my experience of these two commandments. While it may sound simplistic and naive to say that love is the answer, it is important to remember that love like this is hard work. Loving God with ALL our "passion, prayer, intelligence and energy" isn't a part-time, halfway kind of love. This kind of love is not for sissies. And I don't know about you, but not all the "neighbors" God throws in my path are very loveable. Yet, I am encouraged...excited even...to think that pouring myself into a life that is defined by this kind of BIG love will matter in the long run. At 45, I am definitely too young to have determined the meaning of life, but I suspect it has a great deal to do with seeking the Kingdom.
I could go on and on, but I will leave you with a quote from an author I really enjoy. I think he says it all.
"I am convinced that the Christian Gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and that the message of that Gospel is not just about going up when we die but about bringing God's Kingdom down." ~Shane Claiborne
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. AMEN!