Archive for November 2nd, 2009

Here’s a happy thought for you to consider:

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.”

I’ll leave the source a mystery.


PS-I hope this isn’t a repeat. If it was, I’m sorry. My wife just read it to me a little bit ago and it sounded like a great quote for this series.

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Today’s Gospel lesson was taken from Mark 12:28-34.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 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, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

I’m sure all of you have heard sermons from this passage or read it. Maybe you have a t-shirt with these words emblazoned on them. I do not know what you have done with these verses, if anything.

This morning as they were read to the congregation by the pastor heard something that struck me as meaningful. It’s that small word: ‘is’. It is there in plain sight. It’s not making any attempt to hide itself. There it is.


The greatest commandment is. (v 29)

There is no other commandment greater than these. (v 32)

‘Is’ bookends Jesus’ thoughts.

And not only that, but Jesus’ answer stymied everyone so badly that ‘from then on no one dared to ask him any more questions.’ Not one more? Really?

So what Mark is saying is that Jesus’ answer was so profound, so deep, so meaningful, so wonderful, so inspired that it answered all questions they had and all questions they might be considering. Whatever question they might have had from that day forward, in the future, they could not ask because, for better or worse, they remembered this answer and it silenced them. (I wish I had that sort of intellectual prowess.)


The tense of the verb has not changed. I suspect that if Jesus were standing right beside us, or if he were over there and we had to run up to him, and we asked him this question his response would be the same.

There’s not much point in giving us any other commands. I think I know what the fella was getting at. It was something like, “OK. I’ll just ask Jesus what the greatest command is. I’ll do it. Then I’ll be all set.” Then Jesus completely undoes the man by telling him that the greatest command is neither as sublime nor mundane as he might have supposed. It’s neither; it’s both.


I think Jesus’ point is something like this: “You are gonna have trouble enough with this one. Manage this and you will be set.” Right.

It’s enough to love God and to love people. That love will manifest itself in a thousand million ways. For some it will mean suffering alongside those who suffer, for others it will mean marching alongside those who march. For some it will mean protesting the vilest and most disgraceful among us, and for others it will mean giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to our worst enemy. For some it will mean fighting wars, for others fighting peace. It will mean discovering and rediscovering each day how to love people, all the people, whose paths we cross, whose lives intersect ours, a thousand times a day.

Right now loving my neighbor means loving a young man in my neighborhood who treated my youngest son badly today, physically by hitting him and emotionally by saying vulgar things about my son’s mother. I know I could call him out (he’s on my little league team and really wants to pitch next year). I could call his mother. I could make him stand in the hallway at lunch tomorrow and eat by himself. I could impose my fairly large size and intimidate him. But that would not be love, would it?


The command doesn’t change just because we do. The command has not been altered or rescinded just because we are seeing Jesus say it on paper and not with his mouth. The command has not been countered just because we hear it in our hearts and not with our ears. I heard someone say, “You can love your neighbor without loving God, but you cannot love God without loving your neighbor.” True.

Sometimes I wish we had the option though, don’t you?

I have to teach my son that I will protect him, but that I also still love the young man who treated him poorly. Not an easy choice for someone like myself who is anything but a pacifist, someone who swore a long time ago an oath against bullies and punks and all sorts of bully mayhem.

I’m stuck on ‘is.’

It’s easy to love God so long as I do not have to put flesh on him, but make him a person who is as worthy of my love as I suppose God is and I am undone. And there is no getting around it. Jesus said, and I either believe it or I do not, ‘is.’ You know as well as I do that ‘is’ leaves none or less room for wiggle. Nor, for that matter, is it something we have the right to contemplate. ‘Is’ is ‘is.’ There are no two ways about it. The greatest commandment is the two things we find it most difficult to do: Love God; love people.

I’m stuck on ‘is.’

But maybe that’s not such a bad place to be.

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