“You are not far from the kingdom of God”
1. One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, 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.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions (Mk12:28b-34). Taken from today’s Sunday gospel.
2. At the time of Jesus, one of the things that pitched him against the religious leaders was their tendency to multiple religious obligations for the masses who look upon them as the mouthpiece of God. The situation was such that from the ten commandments of God the leaders were able to manufacture 613 laws. It was so tedious that people were wallowing in confusion and guilt because it was difficult to even know all the laws talkless of putting them in practice. Even the so called experts sometimes found it hard to agree on which law was serious and which was not. It was for this reason that Jesus declared woes on those who lay heavy burden on men’s shoulder, precisely the scribes and the Pharisees.
3. In today’s gospel a teacher of the law had to summon courage to declare his confusion by asking Jesus publicly to clarify the hierarchy of the laws. “Which is the first of all the commandments?” To answer this question Jesus simply referred him to what he already know, a formula which every Jews recites twice daily from the age of four, namely: Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.” To this ancient formula he added that after God one should also love one’s neighbor and that there are no other laws greater than the love of God and neighbor.
4. Going through the history of the Israelites in the scripture one understands why Moses gave them the law of love of God as the supreme law. All that they are, the deliverance from Egypt, the settlement in the promised land and victories in war came from God. Dependence on God has brought them goodness while disobedience has brought disaster. To love God implies for them placing God above every other things. No decision or action must be in conflict with the will of God expressed through his commandments. When life is lived giving priority to the commandments, every other thing falls in line. When lived without respect for God things go bad. To love God with all one’s will therefore means asking a vital question before any thought, word or deed: will this please or displease God?
5. Next to the love of God is the love of neighbour. What does it mean to love one’s neighbour as oneself? Jesus summarized the answer with a verse in Matthew: “Do unto others what you will like done to you.” (7:12) This implies putting oneself in other people’s shoes. If you want to be honoured then honour others; if you want to be promoted then promote others; if you will not like to be maltreated then do not maltreat others etc. This recalls the story of Shylock, a character in Shakespeare’s writing, who would not be merciful and yet will like mercy to be shown to him.
6. Jesus affirmed that the Scribes was not far from the kingdom of God. Why? Because he knows the essential of what pleases God. You too are not far from the kingdom of God because you know almost everything that will take the kingdom. But not being far does not mean being inside. Knowledge brings you near to the kingdom but acting upon the knowledge brings you inside the kingdom. Jesus already promises to prepare a place for you in the kingdom. Do not miss your position. Act on what you know. Always guide your thoughts, words and deeds with two principal questions: will this please God? Will I like to be treated this way? If you learn to do this with consistency I assure you that you are not just near to the kingdom, you are already in the kingdom.