The stress Jesus placed on loving God and loving humans would be clear to anyone who read Mark 12. Moreover, the fact that Mark records the principle’s repetition by the scribe seems to render it more emphatic, rhetorically speaking. Following up on yesterday’s post on a few rhetorical aids in Mark, I feel justified in spending some time “eavesdropping” on this rather singular, positive interaction with a scribe—and expanding on it.
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is One and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:32-34a, NIV)
How incredibly significant it is to be labeled as “not far” from the Kingdom! Wouldn’t it have been grand to have Jesus speak those words to us?
Fundamental to the understanding of this quotation from the Lord is the discernment of the kingdom notion itself. While the very word can elicit images of pompous potentates and regal robes, of piteous peasants and the trappings of hierarchy, those ideas seem far from what the Son of God intended the man in this conversation to understand.
What is the “kingdom of God”? Some would say it’s the church . . . or that it’s synonymous with Heaven.
Consider, though, that before the actual church structure was established, Jesus chose this teacher of the law (who seemed to have a wonderful perspective, though the typical NT image of the scribe or Pharisaic lawyer is often one characterized by a warped, rigid outlook) to label as being close to God’s reign.
There was a time for the Law. There is a time for all rules and regulations. There is, in God’s will, even a time for hierarchical structures. But the primary function of the Old Covenant laws (with the inherent structure) was eclipsed in the dawning of the Way.
Newly of primary importance, Jesus said, stood loving God and man—in contrast to the diminishing role of rules, regulations, and structure, that is.
What else can we say about this new Way? The Kingdom of God is not the church (although they are inextricably related). And neither is the Kingdom equivalent to eternal Heaven. (God’s reign, by His own choice, is not total and absolute in this life, but it is absolute in His spiritual domain.)
Mainly, the “kingdom” is His reign in our hearts. It is within us (by His own declaration) . . . which is what makes it infinitely significant that the vocational lawyer who answered Jesus wisely was “not far from the kingdom of God.” It was not the rules with which he was conversant, and which he presumably would have followed to the Nth degree, that brought him into proximity to the kingdom. It was not his affiliation that made the difference. It was what was within him.
Try translating Jesus’ (Mark 12:34) statement this way:
You are inches away from understanding the new Way—the command of God in he heart, as opposed to the domineering nature of the religious structure.
Or, as Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message,
You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.
Again: who was it that Jesus assessed as on his way across the border?
The Pharisees—who, in New Testament caricature, at least, were concerned with nit-picky sub-rules and with being seen doing pious things? Of course not.
The Sadducees who represented the nobility of the day, holding political power and wielding the influence of the hierarchy? Not them, either.
How about the twelve, who seemed to understand every now and then what the business of Jesus was, and who were certainly more acquainted with His teachings than others? No.
Who was “not far from the kingdom”? Who was the only one ever described this way?
It was the man who, despite his background in rules and structure, understood that what it all comes down to is this: loving God and loving man.
In that order.
There remain two imperatives for Christians who desire nothing but to follow Jesus’ steps. When this obedience is part and parcel of who we are, the reign of God will be in effect.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
B. Casey (3/94; revised 11/95, 2/15; radically revised and abridged 5/15)