Father, this morning and throughout the day, there will be many blogs and social media updates and news posts about today’s political election. As people across the United States and even around the world embrace their passion for one candidate or another, many unrighteous words will be spoken and written. Indeed, words will be weapons today, above most days. I ask in the kind and powerful name of Jesus Christ that your people would measure their words carefully, remembering the very words of Christ to his disciples as he warned them that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” and that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”
God, I pray for your wisdom to prevail over our nation as we wield the privilege of democracy and cast our votes, knowing full well that political systems can never bring about the abiding liberty and justice for all that can only be found in Christ and in the kingdom he established through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave, and that he is continuing to establish now through his bride, the church, given the charge to make disciples of all nations, teaching the ways of Christ and embodying the breath of God here on earth. Indeed, I ask that we would remember that your spirit is your breath. May each word we breathe today be the fragrance of Christ to the world around us.
I pray for your mercy on our nation and for grace and kindness we don’t deserve. Many in this country love you and live to see your justice and your mercy be the hallmarks of our nation. Yet we know that many have also turned away from the true, life-giving ways of Christ and have placed their hope in gods that cannot save and systems that cannot satisfy. Indeed, Lord, your people have committed two evils: they have forsaken you, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Have mercy on us, Lord, and may the words of Christ that we meditate on today be our rudder, keeping our ships on the straight and narrow path of righteousness, peace, justice, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and goodness.
The timing of today’s passage is, I think, not coincidental, though I had no intention of making this today’s passage. I have been on the road a lot and have been out of my normal routine, so I haven’t written in a little while. Yet this morning I woke up very early, and after several attempts to fall back to sleep, decided to get up and spend some time in God’s word. This is the next passage in my journey through Mark, and a very fitting one for today. We’re looking at 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.
(Mark 12:28-34 ESV)
The thing that first strikes me as I meditate on this passage is that not all of the religious leaders of Jesus’s day were “bad.” So often, we lump all of these people—the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the chief priests—together to acknowledge that they were so often after Jesus, on a mission to ruin him. And many of them, from what we read in scripture, were, in fact, on such a mission. But not all of them. Among these religious leaders were those whose hearts were pure, who genuinely wanted to walk on paths of righteousness for God’s sake. Nicodemus, who we read about in John 3, was one such Pharisee. He came to Jesus with questions, and apparently accepted Jesus’s (admittedly difficult) teaching, because after Jesus died, it was that same Nicodemus who came with about seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes, in order to dress his body in linen cloths and spices, giving the son of man the dignity of a proper Jewish burial.
So here, in today’s passage, we have a scribe, a man of authority in Jerusalem. He came upon the conversation between the Sadducees and Jesus and “heard them disputing with one another. And seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
We could read this passage and suppose that the scribe was just like all the rest. We could suspect that he, too, was looking to trip Jesus up. Perhaps that’s true, but I don’t think so. The reason I don’t think so is that, after Jesus gave his famous response—essentially, that we are to love God above all else and love others as we love ourselves—this scribe’s response showed remarkable insight. He agreed with Jesus and reiterated what Jesus had said.
But he took it a step further by adding that to love God and love others “is much more that all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
This is remarkable.
As someone employed by the temple system, this scribe had a vested interest in encouraging burnt offerings and sacrifices. These offerings were his livelihood! But beyond that, communicating the need for offerings and sacrifices helped the religious leaders maintain a semblance of power.
But this man understood what Isaiah understood: that obedience to God was about loving God and loving your neighbor. Consider his words:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? … if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.” (Isaiah 58:6-12 ESV)
Isn’t that remarkable? What a glorious calling we have, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, understanding and strength. What a glorious calling we have, to love our neighbors well—to loose the bonds of wickedness, to feed those who are hungry, to free those who are oppressed.
The scribe also understood what Micah understood, when he wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Our offerings to God are and have always been meant to be expressions of hearts that are fully his. Our gifts only please God in as much as they reflect our hearts of worship toward him. This was true for the psalmist, it was true for Paul, and it was true for this scribe, who “answered wisely” and who was “not far from the kingdom of God.” (v. 34)
Today especially, this is an important reminder. First, that there is only one God, and God is our Lord (v. 29), and that our first and highest calling is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind/understanding, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. God is the Lord no matter who is elected, and regardless of whether we are pleased with the outcome of today’s election, our response is clear: to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God. The Lord reigns justly and mercifully toward all who acknowledge him and put their trust in him. May we embody the greatest commandment today and every day as we seek to be ambassadors not for any political party on earth, but for the one who came to demolish every dividing wall of hostility, the one whose dying wish for his people was that they would be “perfectly one,” and the one who welcomes all who call on his name to be wonderfully and beautifully and powerfully saved out of darkness and into his marvelous light.