Thursday, 7 June 2018

Week 9 Thursday (Year 2)

Readings: 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Psalm 24; Mark 12:28-34

Some years ago an English actor did the round of theatres in Britain and Ireland with a one-man show. He simply spoke the King James version of St Mark's Gospel from beginning to end. As an actor, an interpreter of scripts, he brought out all kinds of subtleties and shades of colour that our normal public reading of scripture never captures. Where most liturgical reading is solemn and a bit monotonous, he illuminated the story in a remarkable way bringing out the humour, anger, irony, sarcasm, gentleness, poignancy, bitterness, and many other things that lie hidden in the text. It was a stunning performance.

So what about today's gospel reading from Mark, what moods or shades of colour might be found in it? The scribe seems a bit patronising or perhaps he is simply naive. Is he condescending? His repetition of Jesus' summary of the law adds to it and changes it in subtle ways: is he correcting the amateur rabbi from Galilee? Is there a barb in Jesus' answer - you are not far from the kingdom of God - effectively telling him that he has hit the nail on the side? Is this what the scribe is saying to Jesus, you got it almost exactly right? Is it what Jesus is saying to the scribe, you are 'not far' from the kingdom? How near is 'not far'?

The answer to that question depends on what we are talking about. Augustine in his Confessions tells about a moment when he was not far from the kingdom of God. His spiritual condition was like a man who from a wooded summit can glimpse the homeland of peace for which he has long searched, he has it now in his sights, but there is still the question of how to get into that kingdom from where he is. What will carry us across, bridge the gap, when a person is not far from the kingdom of God? For Augustine it is the cross of Christ by clinging to which he makes the journey from his viewing point home to the kingdom. Charity is established in the humility of Christ, he says. If we want to live by the great commandment we must embrace the humility of Christ, his cross. The pride of man - all that gets in the way of our loving God and loving one another - is only undone by the humility of God. The cross is the key that unlocks the door of our pride and opens us to love.

'Beautiful' is how we might translate the scribe's comment to Jesus when he summarises the great commandment: 'you are right'. Jesus sees that the scribe's answer is wise and intelligent. So perhaps there is more understanding between them than might seem at first. Love opens up the space in which the other can be, and can flourish. It begins with the understanding a person already has and invites him or her to embrace that understanding more fully, to test its depths, to see where its truth leads.

Of course another meaning of 'not far' is that it refers to the scribe's physical proximity to Jesus himself. In John's gospel the great commandment takes the form 'love one another as I have loved you'. The content of the new commandment is not a written law, not even a sacred and hallowed piece of scripture. Most of us can easily quote the text and tell others what the great commandment is. But its content is Jesus Christ, the one who has fulfilled the law in every detail. He loves the Father with all his heart, soul, mind, strength, and he loves his neighbour as himself. He shows us what these things involve but, more than that, he is the only teacher who can enable us to carry it out.

So to be 'not far from the kingdom' is to be not far from Jesus. To be living the life of the kingdom is to be living in Him, sharing the same Spirit, the Spirit of God's love which is the only power that enables us to observe the greatest of the commandments.

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