Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mark 12 continued

Not all the Pharisees are condemned by Jesus. One, impressed by how Jesus dealt with the Saducees, asked a serious question; not a trick one. "What is the most important commandment?"

Jesus's answer was bound to impress a teacher of the law; he quoted from the Torah.
From Deuteronomy Ch6, the shema: The LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

In neither the Hebrew nor the Greek of the Septuagint does the word 'mind' appear. Some commentators make nothing of this, but it seems to me that this is at the very heart of the Christian Gospel and I will return to it.

Jesus quotes again, this time from Leviticus Ch 19: The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.

The reaction of the scribe is to agree: Well said, Teacher.

Jesus commends him: You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Luke's Gospel there is a similar story, but here the scribe tries to trick him and when he receives the same answer seeks to justify himself by asking, "Who is my neighbor?" which prompts the story of the good Samaritan.

However, in Mark we need not follow that path, but instead look back to the Levitical text. Chapter 19 is an expansion of the Ten Commandments. Neighbors first appear with the injunction to judge them fairly. Then 'Don't do anything that endangers your neighbor's life.' The 'Rebuke your neighbor frankly so that you will not share in his guilt.' Then 'Do not seek revenge or a bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.'

In Luke's Gospel, the parable of the Good Samaritan takes away the option of regarding as neighbors merely our kith and kin, those that live in our town or even in our country. The Samaritan was a heretic in Jewish eyes. The principle of neighborliness extends even to people not of our religion.

Most people know about the good Samaritan, and draw from that story our need to be concerned about the sick and suffering, the persecuted and the hard done by wherever they are in the world. That is part of neighborliness, but it is not all of it. If it were then Christians would be a soft touch for any crook and con-man. Christians are not expected to roll over for any kind of abuse. They are not to be milk-sops.

We are to 'judge our neighbors fairly' but we are also to 'rebuke our neighbors frankly so that we will not share in their guilt'. 'Fairly and frankly' that is the watchword. We do our neighbor no favor by turning a blind eye to his misdemeanors.

How do we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? To love him we have to know him. We know him from studying Scripture.

You shall have no other Gods before me. It seems to me that modern Christians are in danger of worshipping the God of Tolerance. Now it is true that God is patient.
'Slow to chide and swift to bless' as the hymn says. We must not mistake that for tolerance. He abhors wickedness, cruelty, dishonesty and all manner of sinfulness. His reluctance to punish us here and now is evidence of his patience, not his tolerance. He gives us time to repent and turn. To tolerate what is evil is a parody of Christianity. We are instructed to judge our neighbors fairly and rebuke them frankly, but to do nothing that endangers our neighbors life. In this we would be loving our neighbors as ourselves; for we would not want anyone to tolerate what was evil in our lives nor to refrain from warning us against mistakes.

"To love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices", answers the scribe and in the opinion of Jesus, wisely. It is not our attendance at church, our baptism or our taking communion that provides evidence that we are Christians, but our love for our neighbor. This is why it is so important to love God with our minds. It would be easy to lay back and let the emotion of the hymns sweep over us; to lean back into a warm glow of beautiful music, great buildings, incense and art; but this would be to deny our understanding of the instruction love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor may be neither beautiful nor artistically satisfying. It is often excruciatingly hard and unpleasant. It may cost us money and time. It may upset our plans.

I left out part of verse 18 of Leviticus Ch 19. The full verse reads: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

This is often the hardest part. Much of the weight we bear on our shoulders is made up of grudges. They are often the hardest things to dispose of, yet unless we do we will be ground down into despair and depression. So put your pride in your pocket and love your neighbor.

One last thing: evangelicals have reacted against the 'social gospel' ever since it became the only gospel of liberals who discarded Scripture. CS Spurgeon had nothing against giving his neighbor tracts, but he suggested we wrapped them up in a sandwich. By all means get your doctrine right, but Jesus commended those who saw the least of his brothers hungry and fed them, thirsty and gave them drink, naked and clothed them, without shelter and took them in, sick and looked after them and in prison and visited them. For those who failed to do these things, no matter how good their knowledge of doctrine, whether they were four or five pointers on the tulip scale, whether they had been baptized, confirmed or communicated, he said,"Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Pretty intolerant of him wasn't it.


justme said...

I appreciated your talking about the difference between patience and tolerance.

"His reluctance to punish us here and now is evidence of his patience, not his tolerance. He gives us time to repent and turn. To tolerate what is evil is a parody of Christianity."

I feel that too often we hold back speaking up because we are afraid to appear intolerate or we don't want to offend. What we need to do is speak boldly, but with grace. (And perhaps bring along a sandwich as well.:)

Anonymous said...

Strange gods before me - ahh, every time I have sinned, I have had a very strange god before me - myself......

Those resentment or grudge things - only way I know out of them is to pray that the object of my resentment will have everything I truly seek - salvation and serenity in this life. Usually get rid of the resentment in a week or so, occasionally a month.

Charles Stearns