“The Kingdom of God has come near.” These are the first words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of St. Mark. As the gospel unfolds, Jesus’ various miracles, exorcisms and healings all serve to underscore the reality of the closeness of the kingdom. It is therefore ironic that during his lifetime few of his followers really come to understand and believe that the kingdom truly is breaking through in their midst.
I often wonder how much we are like those disciples who hear those words but cannot quite believe them to be true. As I noted in a previous post, we long to believe that God is alive, active, and working in our lives and in our world, but so much of what goes on around us speaks to the contrary. Furthermore, if we do believe these words, “the kingdom of God has come near,” we often have our own particular ideas of what the kingdom of God means. Is the kingdom of God a small select group of holy individuals who have “got it right” with respect to their theology, doctrine, ethics, liturgy or prayer? It is tempting to think so. After all, the words that follow this proclamation of Jesus is the admonition, “Repent, and believe in the good news.” Thus, at first glance it appears that the kingdom is solely for those special people who turn from one way of life and believe all the right things. I wonder, though, if this is how we are to interpret this text. It seems that the first disciples interpreted it this way, for they turned from their former lives and followed Jesus. Yet, the fact that they continually got it wrong leads me to wonder if they really understood what this means, and thus, I wonder if we truly understand what Jesus meant.
As noted previously, it is often the demons and adversaries of Jesus that recognize the true nature of his mission, his true identity, and indeed the nature of the kingdom he brings. In many instances in St. Mark’s gospel, the scribes try to “trip-up” Jesus, and get him to say something by which he will incriminate himself. He usually turns the tables on them and they leave, themselves confounded. But as we turn to Mark 12:28-34 something very different happens.
The story goes like this. A scribe, overhearing a dispute that Jesus was having with someone, and being impressed with Jesus’ answer, asks a question of Jesus. Note that this scribe is not trying to “trip-up” Jesus, but something has been genuinely stirred within him. He is authentically seeking to understand who Jesus is and the message he brings. It is not a “trip-up” question, and although it might have been construed as one, Jesus did not take it as such. Jesus took the question as one offered faithfully with an open heart. He of course responded with what has become known as “The Summary of the Law” (which Anglicans today recite as part of our liturgy), namely, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” The scribe received these words as true, confirming them and intensifying them by elucidating to Jesus that he, himself, understands these precepts as being more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. To the scribe’s affirmation Jesus responded, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
You are not far from the kingdom of God. Love God with your entire being and love your neighbour as yourself – this is the meaning of the Kingdom, and indeed, this is the reality of the Kingdom.. It should never be forgotten that these two precepts are interwoven, love of neighbour is always an act of worship, and God can be loved in service to our fellow human beings. If this love animates our very essence, then we are not far from the kingdom The disciples missed the point that God was in their midst, in Jesus Christ, and thus they failed to truly understand that the kingdom of God was at hand. The reality is that Christ remains in our midst today and the kingdom of God is indeed very near, yea, at hand.
Thus, we must repent. But from what shall we repent? We shall repent from our pride and vanity that we always know the mind of God. We shall repent from our judgment and criticism of others who also believe that they alone know the mind of God. We shall repent from a close-mindedness that keeps us from being open to the possibility of God transforming the world and the church. And we shall repent from the fear that keeps us from taking risks in following God and being reconciled with neighbour.
Thus, we must believe in the Good News. But what is that Good News to which we turn? It is the Good News that peace is our pathway and love our banner. It is the Good News that reconciliation is possible between us and God, and between us and our estranged brothers and sisters. And it is the Good News that we are never left alone in this world and all it throws at us. It is the Good News that the kingdom of God is very near indeed.
I certainly do not want to throw away the precepts of our faith, neither our theologies and doctrines, nor our ethics. Yet, I must say that the message of Jesus in Mark is one in which we are challenged beyond and through a religiosity that veils the kingdom and into a different sort of religious awareness in which the veil is lifted and we realize that the kingdom of God is not far off indeed. Let us therefore seek the Lord where he may be found. Let us turn from selfishness to love and we will find ourselves, with that faithful scribe, very close to the kingdom of God.
Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, my any means, without the express, written permission of the author.