By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 13:1–8 (NRSV)
The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
(Mt 24:1–8; Lk 21:5–11)
13 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
I have had the privilege to visit many monuments over the course of my life. I like monuments. They give us a sense of history, a story that is larger than ourselves, and that great things have happened around us. There are a few monuments that really stick with me though. One is the monument of the unknown sailors in Odessa, Ukraine. According to the guide during our visit, and our guide was our translator, so he was not exactly a historian, the monument was built to honor the sailors from the city that got into boat to fight the Nazis. They just got on any boat and went out, no one knew who was on what boat, but they bravely tried to protect their port. This monument had an impact on me because of the pride and the mystery. Fighters against all odds going out in whatever boat they could get on to do what they could.
The second monument that has had a profound effect on me is right here in Kansas City, the National World War I memorial. If you have not visited this monument recently please go and visit it. It is breath taking and allows us to see just a small glimpse into the conditions and the politics of that era. This monument is one that leaves me a bit uneasy. I am very passionate in my beliefs and one of those beliefs is our testimony against war, yet I visit these memorials and it makes my heart ache and swell with pride at the same time. I know the sacrifice, I know the desire to serve, I know the passion, but I also know the pain that is connected to these monuments. They remind us of all this and hopefully inspire us to try even more to prevent such bloodshed.
On our honeymoon, Kristy and I visited another monument, the crazy horse monument. This is a massive sculpture that is being built near Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. When we visited this monument, we were able to witness the workers conduct one of their strategic blasts, which was very exciting. But what impressed me the most about this monument was the flags from all the Native tribes across our nation that were represented on the site. And to see the hope of a university for native American studies that they intend to build on the site. I am impressed by this monument because of the unity and the strength of the tribes. They have faced many trials and hardships, yet they strive to maintain their culture.
I have visited many monuments, but probably the most impressive that I have visited is the actual city of Washington, D.C. This city is filled with monuments. The Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Arlington Cemetery, the Capital building, the list could go one. I visited this city when the summer before I entered Junior High, I remember this vacation because it was near the end of the first gulf war and we saw many military vehicles in the national mall. I remember looking down over the city from the top of the Washington monument and seeing the lights of all the federal building illuminating the skies. And at a young age I fell in love with everything American.
Monuments are a source of pride, and of hope. They let us who were not there join with those that were in the story of us. But there are sides to every story. We also visited the Vietnam Memorial. I am too young to know the actual war but know people who were there. I saw homeless veterans crying as they touched the names of friends. I saw flowers placed on the sidewalk. I saw this, and it etched things in my heart. In the city of monuments, I saw for the first-time real homelessness, and I also saw the first glimpse of pure hate as I saw two skinheads beating a man for no reason. These monuments, these structures to remind us of our greatness, often come with a cost.
As I reflected on this week’s passage I thought about those monuments. The feelings I felt as I approached. I considered the importance of each, even though some of them have very little connection to me. And then I considered the Temple of God.
It is hard for us to even imagine the colossal presence of this structure, because none of us have been to anything that would come close to its greatness. People throughout the ancient world would visit this temple. It was greater than any other religious structure at that time, it might even have been the most impressive religious structure of all time. The platform on which the temple was built covers thirty-six acres. And this platform is filled with arches and tunnels, aqueducts and storage vaults. And that is just the foundation of the temple. This structure was the central to the identity and culture of Israel.
When the disciples proclaim to Jesus their awe of this structure, they are voicing the pride of their nation. A massive structure that is more impressive than anything else in the entire empire. It was seen to be as close to perfection as humanity could build. And this structure was the temple of Israel’s God.
The stones, the buildings! Just look at them! Consider the most impressive building you have visited and then multiply it by a hundred. And that is just the part that they could see. The interior was of limits to all people except the priests, yet we can get a glimpse as to what it might be like if we were to read the histories of Israel in the Old Testament.
The disciples are just breathing in the pride of their nation and standing in reverence. But Jesus does not let them enjoy it. “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Imagine their shock at those words.
What can he possibly mean by it? This would be the equivalent of every monument of Washington, D.C. being reduced to rubble. How would that make us feel? In a moment we would lose our entire identity. No more pride, no strength, we would seemingly be reduced to nomads or a people with no home. Imagine the feelings. Everything that you value, everything that you have built your life upon, toppled.
They proceed to the mount of olives which is opposite the temple complex, and they look back to the structure. This massive structure that we could fit twenty-six football fields within. To put this into perspective there are thirty-two NFL teams. This is like having all but six of their facilities in one place. twenty-six arrowhead stadiums. They observe the activities going on as they over look this structure. And Peter, James, John and Andrew come to speak to Jesus alone. Jesus has just told them that their entire lives are going to come crashing down around them, and they want answers. “How will we know when this is going to happen?”
We often fail to see the significance of this question, because we live so far removed from this time and place. We live so far from the context of this passage that we have begun to give new meaning to the words all together. So often when we read this passage, we look forward to the second coming of our Lord, and that is fine, I hope to see Him soon too. But we need to remember that this is before Jesus was even crucified, this is before the Jewish wars had even begun. As far as the religious culture is concerned things could not be better. Attendance is up, the treasury is full, people from all the corners of the Earth are coming to pay their respects to the God of Israel. Yet Jesus is saying, everything you have built your faith on is about to be demolished, and not one stone will be left standing.
He then uses apocalyptic words to describe it. There will be stories of Wars, earthquakes, famines but do not be alarmed. He even says there will be people that will come in his name, saying that “I am He.” But do not be led astray. For most of my life I have been taught these words in fear. People asking if I am ready for that day to come. I have fellow pastors that will send nearly weekly updates on the quantity of earthquakes that occur around the world, and attached to these messages is the question are you ready? When I was in high school on through to when I was married there were series of books focused on the very same thing. Earthquakes, wars, famines, false prophets. They were working us all up into a panicked frenzy. But we missed the most important part of what Jesus had to say, “Do not be alarmed.”
We miss the significance of this passage because we are in a rush for something else. Jesus is simply asking in what do we put our faith? He has just spent several days in the very temple’s courts teaching the masses about the kingdom. He has been asked questions by the religious leaders and has parried each to strike at the heart of truth. And those ended with one answer, “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, 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. And love your neighbor yourself.” He continued teach the disciples as they watched the religious leaders walking by in their long robes, and as people placed their offerings into the treasury boxes. Through all this teaching, illustrating, through all his life and ministry the one point he was trying to make is this. Love.
His life was dedicated to Loving God, as he made it his custom to worship with the community in the synagogues. He embraced the holy Spirit while he withdrew to the isolated places to pray. And he lived that love out as he had compassion for the people and healed them, fed them, and taught them the good news. Jesus showed us how to live a life of love. Yet every one of the disciples misinterpreted what was going on, and we see it in this passage.
Everything Jesus did was focused on the real application of the primary law of God. Yet the disciples argued about which one was the greatest. He would teach about being a servant to all, and a couple of them would then ask can I sit at your right hand and my brother on your left when you come into your kingdom? Their minds were caught in this unrelenting cycle of nationalism and pride. Everything about their lives revolved around restoring the kingdom of their ancestors, and that was centered on the temple. Just look at it they say, look at the huge stones! Look at the magnificent buildings! We are great, so when will you bring in the kingdom?
Their focus is not on God. Their focus is on themselves. Sure, they love their countrymen but ultimately, they want power to rule. They want influence. They do not want others to tell them what to do. We want to be great, so we can tell others what to do.
What is the result of these attitudes? Wars and rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, and earthquakes. People coming in his name saying I am the anointed one listen to me and if you do not, we will smite you with everything we have to available to us. Do not be alarmed Jesus says, because these things must happen. They must happen until we realize that there is a better way. They will continue to happen until we put our faith in the proper perspective.
Jesus bluntly tells the disciples, your way of thinking and the way of thinking of everyone else here is going to lead to your destruction. And it happened. The might of Rome marched into Jerusalem and they leveled the temple, and they removed everything of value and carried it back to Rome. We look at the monuments of Rome, and every one of them was financed by the looting of the Temple of God.
Jesus is saying there will be a day when you must decide. There will be a day where everything you have built your life on will fall and you must decide what to do next. There will be a day when the world around you will no longer be recognizable, how will you react? Jerusalem will fall, what remains?
Do not be alarmed. Jesus says this because he has shown them the truth. He has invited them to participate in that holy lifestyle that he enjoys. He knows that when everything we build for ourselves falls away, faith remains. A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook a few days ago that says, “Faith is not about everything turning out okay. Faith is about being okay no matter how things turn out.” This is the essence of what Jesus said that day. Do not be alarmed, the things that are going to cause you to fear, the things that will cause you to question yourself and everything you stand for, that might make you stumble they may even make you cry out but do not be alarmed. Keep living His holy lifestyle. Continue to love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others. Because it is that lifestyle, that faith in action that will cause those around us to see something different. It is that faith that will cause those around us who are also facing their own monumental crashes to grab onto the faith that we have.
The disciples looked at their great city, with its massive stones and magnificent buildings and they were filled with pride. And many of those early disciples saw that city burn to the ground. On that day a great decision had to be made. What do we do now? How do we live our lives when there is no symbol to grasp hold of? How can we stand for truth when the very monuments to it lay in ruin? Choices were made, and those choices resulted in modern Judaism and Christianity. But since that time several other monumental events occurred and with each one a choice would have to be made, and each choice leads us another direction. Leaders emerge, and they say I am the one to follow and many are led away from Christ even though those leaders claim to speak in His name and they lead the people to more wars, more famines, more of the same. And with each war more destruction that causes more people to answer their own questions and make choices. This is how it is to be…until someone says no as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. And they look to Christ and live in his holy lifestyle once again.
Today is not so different than any other era of history. The main difference is the amount of harm we can cause with so little effort. The question remains the same, if everything you built you life on were to tumble what would you do? Would you be alarmed? Or would you continue to walk in faith?
Mark 12:38–44 (NRSV)
Jesus Denounces the Scribes
(Mt 23:1–7; Lk 20:45–47)
38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
At times there are things that annoy me about organizations. Things like absolutely no overtime at work. It is not like I am one to work a ton of overtime, but when I am told to cut my overtime when there is only three minutes it just seems a bit petty. But even when things annoy me about an organization that same organization can amaze me.
Religious organizations are often the source of these mixed feelings. If we were to listen to those who do not attend meetings for worship, we would hear horror stories at times for why they neglect the gathering together. I even have a few of my own comments to add to them. At times we as a collective whole can be judgmental over things that really do not matter to salvation. But this same organization can also give assistance to people that can nearly be overwhelming to those they have blessed. This has happened to me several times within my life. At times I question if God can use people like us and then I wonder how God pulled it off because I know the people involved.
Today I approach this scripture and to be honest I do not really know what to say. I studied all week, had a good idea of which direction to go, and then something happens on Saturday which brings me to my knees. And this time it is not prayers of a grieving heart but prayers of praise. All because God uses people like us in ways that just confound me.
Let us remember where this passage is taking place. This portion of Mark’s Gospel is during the passion week of Christ. The time we recognize between Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. The crowds have cheered him on proclaiming him to be their long-awaited king, and the religious leaders are left stewing over their loss of influence. It was one thing when Jesus was up in Galilee teaching and healing, but now he is on their home turf, he is teaching in the temple courts. This is where they teach, this is where their teaching reigns supreme and no one is supposed to question them, because they hold guard the gates of redemption. Yet here is Jesus teaching right there in the temple courts.
That Sunday, Jesus was proclaimed king, he came to the temple and left. He returned the next day He again entered the temple courts. And this time he came with vengeance. The temple courts were filled with venders. The temple would not allow Imperial currency to be used within so there were people exchanging currencies. If you happen to read the currency markets, you would know that at times you can make a great living just by simply converting one currency to another at the proper times. This happens to be a time leading up to one of the greatest feasts of the year. All of Israel is making pilgrimages to the temple to offer sacrifices and celebrate the feast of Passover. And when there is high demand for temple currency the exchange rate shifts. There is more to the story though, not only are there people exchanging currency but there are people selling animals for sacrifice. This is very convenient for the worshipers. They no longer have to make their pilgrimage while hauling animals acceptable for a sacrifice, they can simply buy on when they get there. There is a flip side to this enterprise as well. Who authorized the sacrificial animals to be sold and are they getting a cut of the profits? It does not take much imagination that the religious leaders would be involved in this enterprise. A priest inspects an animal and deems it unworthy and sends the penitent worshiper to their dealer, who sells them an animal that is guaranteed to be acceptable for the altar. There is a closed market, people must convert their money to temple currency, they are potentially required to make a purchase of an animal using only temple currency. This is an enterprise that reeks of opportunistic and predatory greed. What does Jesus do? He storms into the temple courts and he turns the tables over, he drives releases the animals and chases the venders out. The then proclaims, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers”.
He has embarrassed the religious leaders. He has removed a profitable source of income from them. He has the ear of all the worshipers. He has just caused the status quo of the temple to crash, and the religious leaders are furious. By what authority does he do this they ask, and they join forces with their religious opponents to take on this common threat. They begin debating and asking questions in the attempt to catch Jesus in his words. For the next several days they do this. Each time a question is asked Jesus steps around it in such a manner that the truth is revealed while and their religious ideologies are shown to be what they truly are, human attempts to control the masses.
Then one wise scribe asks a question, of all the commands and laws what is the most important. This question, which we discussed last Sunday, was one that Jesus answered head on, because this is a question of value. It was one that spoke to the truth of why everyone was at the temple in the first place. It was a question that spoke to life and not just religious observance. “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength. And the second is this, Love your neighbor as yourself.” The wise scribe agrees with Jesus, and even says you are right, and this is more important than all the sacrifices. To which Jesus replies, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
It is important to visualize the scene. It is important to recognize what Jesus a few days had just done prior and why the religious leaders were asking these questions, because if we do not recognize the context of the story, we might miss something important. In today’s passage Jesus begins his teaching by saying watch out for the teachers of the law.
When Jesus is saying this, he is not meaning all teachers are like this, because he just said that some…well one was not far from the Kingdom. Jesus is speaking about those that exploit the system, the ones that make the temple into a den of robbers instead of a house of prayer for all nations. He says, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Those who like to walk around in long robes. Recently we discussed long robes in our Sunday morning bible study. This is like the multicolored coat that was given to Joseph that enraged his brothers. As people have gained more understanding of the ancient languages that were used in scripture, they have decided that the coat given to Joseph might not have been multicolored, although that is probably part of it, but it might have been irritating because it was long sleeved. If we were to find something similar today the difference between this coat and the clothing of the others, it would be like a suit compared to a uniform. So, Joseph was clothed in the garments of management and the brothers wore the clothing of labor. When Jesus refers to the teachers wearing long robes, he is speaking not only of their clothing but the divisions among people. They made sure that people knew their position and they also wanted you to be aware of your own. They were not leaders who walked with those they managed but they were separate elites.
The people Jesus warned his disciples about were those who made demands not based on character but on position. These teachers make interpretations of the law, yet they themselves do not live by them because they can twist their interpretations to allow themselves to live how they desire while requiring everyone else do what they say. And these same people were the ones that could deny your offering within the temple if you did not support their agenda. They like their position because people were required to give them respect. They walked around in the finest of clothes and when they walked by people would greet them with proper words. They would have the seats of honor in the places of worship and you would not think of giving them a seat anywhere but at the head of the table at a feast. These are people totally disconnected with reality, and they consume the faithful.
Our early Friends had something to say about these types of people too. They called them the hirelings. They were religious leaders that had positions but did not have true life. This is why our spiritual ancestors of faith turned from the steeple houses of England, stopped the use of religious sacraments and met in silence. Because many of the leaders were void of life. They went through the motions, they said the right things but lived contrary to what they spoke. They were dishonest to the people and themselves. Beware of people like that Jesus said.
But not all the religious leaders are like this. Jesus knows this and even said that one of those people that held position was not far from the kingdom. And there were others as well, one of those religious leaders gave up his own tomb so that Jesus could be laid to rest in it. But it should cause us all to take note and consider our words and actions.
This is why Friends have the spiritual exercise that we call the Queries. These are simple questions that we read in every business meeting, we discuss them on occasion and hopefully we sit with them and consider our answers. Questions like, “Do you love one another as becomes the followers of Christ? Are you careful of the reputation of others? When differences arise do you make earnest efforts to end them speedily?” We could simply answer, yes or no, but are we being honest? Beware Jesus tell his disciples. The words and lifestyles should match. And if they do not, then listen more closely.
Then Jesus takes the disciples and they sit and observe as people place alms in the treasury box. They watch as some place large sums of money into it, and they observe a widow that places seemingly nothing, two small copper coins. Jesus tells them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The warning and this observation are connected. The cleansing of the temple and this observation are connected. Jesus’s advent and this observation are connected. I imagine that the disciples sat there watching countless pilgrims placing money in the treasury box. They probably gasped as some place into this box a month’s wages or possibly more money than they made in a year. And as the widow approached with her coppers they probably laughed. But the words of Jesus probably leapt to mind. BEWARE, and they took a second look. They might have even thought about who these people were, because they had probably greeted some of them in the marketplace earlier that day.
Then as they watch Jesus speaks again. He tells them that the widow gave everything she had, and the others gave out of their abundance. The others gave large sums but what they gave was only a fraction of what they had available, but the widow she did not even consider herself.
I speak often about the rhythm of Jesus’s life. He has a distinct cycle in his life and lifestyle. He made it his custom to worship in the community he visited, and he went to the synagogues on the appointed days. He withdrew often to isolated places to pray. And after worship and prayer he would move out into the community and minister to the needs of the people and taught them what life with God was like. Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus doing these things, showing this lifestyle to the disciples and encouraging them to participate. Jesus lived a certain way. And to be his disciple we are called to take on his life. This does not mean we simply say magic words, but we take on a new life. We take on the lifestyle of Jesus. No longer do we look only to our own good, but we look out for the good of others.
Jesus showed his disciples what that looked like. He told them beware of the teachers, the teachers who built an economic religious empire selling redemption to feed their greed. And then he shows them the sacrifice of the widow who gave her last two copper coins.
At times, organizations can bring me sorrow. It pains me when religious groups and teachers get caught up in petty arguments that do not really matter in the larger picture. But then I also see groups that give their last two coins to help those in need. I have seen this small meeting give. We have given to teachers, knowing that new teachers do not always have the funds they need to provide for the children they teach. I have seen us rally around individuals who have had health concerns and trouble financially. I have seen us give to missionaries, enabling them to devote their lives to sharing the Gospel. We have even given to missionaries who have gone to places not to start churches but to simply live their lives to encourage others. I have also sat through meeting where attendees have argued with red faces, making threats and demands.
I have seen a great deal in my life. But there are some things that mean more than the others. The hugs and tears from friends, when words could not express sorrow at my sister’s funeral. The fact that most of this meeting drove to Wichita to attend the event at yearly meeting where I was recorded as a minister. My aunt coming here to Kansas City to watch my son being dedicated in this Meetinghouse. And more recent, with expenses that I really cannot cover our yearly meeting and our Friends here in this monthly meeting have helped. I personally have witnessed people giving of themselves to encourage someone else. I have personally seen them give knowing full well that that gift is a sacrifice.
I have seen true faith and I have seen things that have caused me to beware. I have seen it all around me, but I stand here today because the truth has more power than the lies. I stand here today because a Sunday school teacher loved Jesus enough to put up with unruly boys. Because a pastor shared with me the rich history of Friends. Because a Meeting looked through the sin and offered grace. I am here today because so many people throughout my life have given of their lives for me. Each of these people gave because there was a long line of people that invested in their lives, and people that invested in theirs. And it goes all the way back through history, to this one moment where Jesus stood in the temple and showed the disciples teachers in long robes and a widow with two pennies. And Jesus said some will give everything and some will take. And then later that same week Jesus would say this is my body broken for you and this is my blood as they ate together. And later Jesus would cry from a tree, “Forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.”
Some give it all and some take. Who are you?
Mark 12:28–34 (NRSV)
The First Commandment
(Mt 22:34–40; Lk 10:25–28)
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
There are times where seemingly simple things take a whole lot of energy. This week at work all I really had to do was audit the backroom. It is a simple task, the only thing you do is scan and count. Yet when you look at the long line of shelves that go from one side of the room to the other, from the floor to nearly the ceiling, the task seems daunting. The most stressful part was when I got to the DVD’s, you would not believe how many DVD’s can fit in a seemingly small amount of space, imagine how many can fit on a shelf eight feet wide.
While doing this daunting task of counting all the way to four about a million times. I found that I spent a few moments thinking about this week’s passage. It is a seemingly simple passage. It is very straight forward. It does not have words that could trip us up or anything. Yet this seemingly simple passage confounded me this week. Reminding me of the saying that the Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand yet complex enough to stump scholars.
It starts by saying that one of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another. What exactly were they disputing? It is important to know what the context of the scene is. In the previous chapter, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey, Mark calls it a colt which simply means that the animal was young enough that it had not yet been trained to bear burdens. When Jesus rode this beast into the city, the crowds of people sang his praises and waved palm leaves in the air. They took their coats off and they laid them along with branches on the ground before him. They yelled and screamed hosanna! They did all this because they declared this traveling teacher their king.
This is one of those stories that we often hear, but do we really take the time to contemplate the scene? In the culture of that day Jesus was a common person. Yes, he was God incarnate, but he was a common laborer. He was known by many as the carpenter. And many times, the upper class within their society asked where Jesus obtained the authority to do the things he did, because as far as they knew he was just a carpenter. It irritated them because this common person had a following, they were jealous, and, in their jealousy, they became petty.
Whenever Jesus stopped to teach, they were among the people in the crowd. Jesus would teach, he would perform miracles and people would be amazed. And the elites among the group would become more irritated. They would work their way to the front of the crowd and challenge Jesus on interpretation of scripture. They would say, “Why don’t your disciples wash before they eat as is the custom of the elders?” And they hoped that Jesus would say something to them that they could use against him.
This had gone on for three years. Three years they asked questions, and Jesus answered with parables that caused them to look as if they knew nothing about their own faith. And now the crowd is cheering Jesus on and claiming him to be the king. They are fearful of what might happen. Everything they had worked for is being challenged right before their eyes and they do not know what to do next. They once enjoyed seats of honor and now those seats are being offered to commoners. Jesus and his disciples go into a town and are invited into home and served as they teach. And many of these elite members of society are lucky to even get a seat at the table.
Now Jesus makes his way to the temple courts, the very center of their religious culture. He makes his way into their domain and they are beside themselves. There are several different religious philosophies that have a presence in the courts, each have representatives close at hand to teach the pilgrims as they offer their sacrifices. And while Jesus is there they engage in debates. These are not typical debates, but they are carefully crafted challenges. Pharisees and Sadducees join forces and ask questions of Jesus that should cause Jesus to choose one side over the other, yet with each question Jesus again cause them to look worse.
There is a scribe present, he is observing these debates and is impressed with the discourse. We often hear about scribes and at times we do not always know who they are. If we simply look at them based on their name we would think of them as educated individuals that could read and write, and they are. Their purpose is to be counselor for the common people, so they are basically lawyers. If there was a question of conduct of some sort you would consult a scribe, and they would give advice according to their understanding of the law. They are basically lawyers. This scribe was listening to the debates that Jesus was having with the religious scholars and he was probably laughing to himself as these well-respected rabbis were tripping themselves up on the details of various legal interpretations. He laughed because Jesus stepped around all the various interpretations and got to the heart of things.
This man decides to ask Jesus his own question. “Which commandment is first of all?” A simple question, but we need to understand what is meant by first before we can proceed. He is asking what is most important, what is primary, of all the commandment which take priority. Basically, he is asking, if there was only one law what would it be?
I imagine Jesus smiling at this scribe, he might have even given him a wink and a nod, because this is finally a question that makes sense. Every other question that Jesus was asked was one over the finer details over an interpretation. One that was debated among various factions with the hopes that this popular teacher would move to their side giving them more power and influence over the people. But this question is an honest question. It reminds me of the conversation that Jesus had with the rich ruler, the man that did everything right, but lacked one thing. This scribe is asking Jesus what is that one thing that is most important.
Jesus astonishes the crowd with his answer. The thing about Jesus is that he did not teach anything new. This might surprise people because the disciples of Jesus basically formed a new religion. But he did not teach anything new. Truth is truth no matter what. It is always truth even if it is not accepted. We look back in history think of Christianity being a new religion that was formed at the close of the first century it really is not, what happened is that the ancient faith of the Hebrews divided and took two different paths. The truth remains the same.
And that truth is simply this, “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” There is nothing new here. This is a teaching that has been part of the faith of Israel since Israel existed.
A simple answer, yet this simple answer caused me to think this week. What does this really mean?
Heart. The heart had an interesting meaning to ancient cultures. Today if we look at the word we have basically two thoughts, heart is love or it is the organ that pumps blood through our bodies. In ancient times the heart was the seat of passion. It is what gave your drive to live. It was like a wild horse or a colt that had yet been trained to ride. The heart is filled with raw energy and potential that can lead us to greatness or great trouble. The books of wisdom encourage us to tame and guard our heart, an untrained horse can cause harm, but when it is tamed it can take you places.
Love the Lord your God with all your passion. We are a very passionate culture. It is one of the greatest things about America, we have the freedom to be passionate. And when people pursue their passions at times they become the stuff of legend. Athletes are passionate about their sport and they can become professionals. People with a passion of making life a bit easier have built technical empires that produce iPhones and windows operating systems, Google algorithms, and pandora music streaming. Things that even thirty years ago were wild dreams. Love the Lord your God with all your passion.
Soul. The soul is our inner life, our will. If our heart is our passion, our soul is our determination. The soul is what tames the passion. Love the Lord with all your will and determination. There are many people that have a passion for something but very few have the will to bring it about. It is our soul that take the athlete to the gym when their muscles hurt. It is the soul that causes the entrepreneur to invest the time and resources into a business that others do not see potential in. The soul is what carries a student through medical school, when they cannot figure out why they are studying at three in the morning. Love the Lord your God with all your determination and will.
Mind. This one also appears to be self-explanatory. When we consider our mind, we consider our wisdom and our intelligence. But there is more to our mind than just knowledge. When Jesus and the prophets of old speak of the mind they are speaking of our ability to reason. They speak of the process we take when we make decisions. It is our philosophy of life, and our methods. To love God with all your mind is to love God with not only what but how we think. It is our perception, how we interpret information, our judgment, our reasoning, basically your faith. Science is one aspect of the mind. It is taking observations and applying interpretations to those observations and formulating a conclusion. Mysticism is also an aspect of the mind, it also observes things, interprets things and forms conclusions. Your political ideology is an aspect of your mind. All of this is taking what we observe and formulating a conclusion based on our interpretation. Love the Lord with all your mind, Love him with your judgement, intentions, and your faith.
Strength. For most people this aspect of life deals with our bodies. And that is a decent interpretation, but it is not full. Strength deals with more than just the body, it also speaks of everything we have access to. It is our abilities, as well as our wealth. It is our property as well as our influence. To love God with all our strength is to love God with our business, our labor, our finances, and our relationships. If our heart is our passion, if our soul is our determination, if our mind is our faith, then strength is our action. It is what we do. It is how we interact with those around us.
Jesus includes the second command, for this reason. It is not because it is a lesser commandment, but it is resolution. It is the result of what proceeded it. When James speaks of faith and works, and we all cringe because we are from protestant traditions that believe in grace through faith not works. His is saying if you have the first this will be the result of it. If our passion, determination, faith, do not lead us to action we have not yet loved. If Steve Jobs and the Apple corporation did not actually produce the iPhone the world we know would not exist. If Henry Ford did not put into action the assembly line in the production of automobiles our world as we know it would not exist. If an author never put ink to paper our world as we know it would not exist. If we do not release our heart, soul, and mind to our strength we are people of fleeting passion, no determination, good intentions but no action. To put it bluntly without action nothing matters.
Love the Lord our God with all our passion, determination, faith and intentions, and all our action. Or as Nike would say JUST DO IT. Live your faith in everything you do. Let the spirit of God saturate every aspect of your life and spill over onto everyone around you.
Let your passion be saturated with God so that it will lead you to righteousness instead of wickedness. Let your will be filled with God so that you are determined to do good instead of evil. Let your judgement, intentions, and faith ooze with the Spirit of God so it will bring hope instead of dread. And may our actions with every resource available to us be directed by God so that we honor instead of dehumanizing those around us.
I thought about these words this week. I thought about my passions. I thought about my will and determination. I considered my thought processes and how I come to conclusions. These thoughts revealed a great deal to me about myself and my faith. What about you?
The scribe looked at Jesus after this and I imagine that this time the scribe smiles at Jesus and possibly winks. He says to the traveling teacher, “You are right. This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Stop and think about this for a moment. The offerings and sacrifices are the most important aspect of temple worship. Without these there is no need for the temple. This scribe is basically saying without these things there is no reason for us to even exist. Our worship is empty without Love for God and Neighbor. Our songs are nothing, our actions are nothing but dust in the wind. All that matters all that will last is the actions done for one purpose neighbor.
Think about it. The only things that last are the things that are invested in others. Corporations, organizations, churches when they do not invest in the others they cease because they lose their purpose. They lose the passion, will, and faith to put things into action. Fear takes hold, no heart, no soul, mindless, and movement ceases. Death. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but loses his soul?
Love God with everything. But do not forget the one thing, the neighbor. Because others are life.