The Gospel of Mark is my favorite because of its simplicity in telling the historical story of Jesus. And because my favorite version of the “love the Lord and love your neighbor” story is found in chapter 12.
To set the scene, Jesus rode into Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, ticked off the chief priests and scribes who then tried to come up with ways to destroy him, camped that night outside of the city, then came back into Jerusalem and found that the plan concocted by the chief priests, scribes, and elders was in full effect, as they confronted him head on about his supposed authority. He strategically non-answers their question (like a boss), and they send Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees to try to get him to say something they could indict him on. He schools them.
And then, one of the most tender moments, as one of the scribes who had been watching all of this go down approaches the Savior…
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
This scribe, who studied his people’s sacred text for a living, had been drawn into the mystery of an eternally loving God, and had discovered this divine counsel to love and be loved in between the lines of sacrifices and offerings and wars and wrath found in what we now call the Old Testament. He had seen something beautiful, and he thought he saw it embodied in this Jesus of Nazareth.
Leaning in, aware of the possibility of losing his job and title, he discreetly asked our Lord if this good news was real. And seeing his faith and desire, the Savior leaned in too, and whispered words that without question would reach deep into this man’s heart…
And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.
Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. Oh, how his soul must have rested in those words.
During these past few months I’ve reread the Old Testament, and I feel a kinship with this unnamed scribe. The beautiful gospel of a loving and merciful God is all in there. I had the privilege of hindsight to know God’s nature is embodied in Christ, and to be able to read the scriptures through that lens, a privilege this faithful scribe did not have.
As I continue to read, I’m still reading between the lines, looking for the saving and redeeming God I know. The Bible is a wisdom text. It is full of stories and experiences and perspectives whose value lies not in the rules and declarations of belief which shift between authors and cultural contexts, but in the way they draw us into a story bigger than our own, the way they reveal to us our own natures as reflected through a human lens, and the way they stretch us and turn us to our own experiences with God. It’s a challenge to read the text that way sometimes, and always an incredible adventure.
“What is written in the law? How readest thou?”
~ Jesus (Luke 10:26)