Mark 12:34

Seeing that he had answered with discernment, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

how far is not far

in linear terms
inches and kilometers
are measures of hope
for we can go halfway
and halfway again
until we are practically here

for discerning wisdom
near only works in horseshoes
to be close to wisdom
is indeed faint praise
until enlightenment dawns
monkey-minds jump their hoops

to confuse these
turns encouragement
strangely dull
closing ears
warning off
dilettante pretenders

To be not far from a participation in what it means to be in the presence of G*D raises a question about the boundaries of a presence of G*D.

One import is that there is a distinction to be made between hearing, seeing, understanding, and doing. We return to how it is that Isaiah’s vision and Jesus’ parables can be seen and heard, and even memorized, but that until they are implemented there is no real comprehension.

It is important, then, to find ways of assisting people to act as though loving Neighb*rs is not distinguishable from loving G*D. Before the joy available here can be experienced, it needs to be lived. This is why removing discriminatory language from the institutions we belong to is important. The removal doesn’t get rid of prejudice, but it allows people to practice the mutuality and partnership necessary to have prejudice diminish to the point of finally no longer poking itself into all interactions.

Hearing this whole scene is very much like the time Jesus equated rich people with camels. The disciples were shocked—“Who then can be saved?”

“If this scribe, who agrees with Jesus, still isn’t in, the best we can do will always fall short.” Only silence or a question can deal with this realization. The disciples asked; the crowd remained silent.

The Reader may also need some quiet, wilderness, time to wrestle further with the interaction between G*D and Neighb*r before beginning a new practice based on this partnership.

Mark 12:33

and to love him with all one’s heart, and with all one’s understanding, and with all one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself is far beyond all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

to love a neighbor
is not so easy
a sacrifice of self
torched privilege

to love a neighbor
is to not burn
a casserole
intended for sharing

to love a neighbor
is to partner for good
common good
for a seventh generation

to love a neighbor
is incomplete
it takes a lifetime
and more to love one

to love a neighbor
sees their ground of being
and seeds it generously
and in turn receives their seed

to love a neighbor
is more particular
than honoring a G*D
cloned from my heart

This is not to say that religious rituals are of no import, but that they are secondary to lived mercy as an evidence of our love of G*D and Neighb*r.

This synopsis leads to a look at this episode from the perspective of the participants recorded in The Gospel of Solentiname527–533. Sunday by Sunday people in Lake Nicaragua met to reflect on the Gospel reading for the day.

Laureano: Because God is humanity. They are equal. (Some of us believe, then, that they are the same thing. Or that it’s God, that humanity is God.)

Ernesto: No, I believe that what we should say is that God is love among people. That God does exist, but that God doesn’t exist in another way, separated from love among people, as God is usually imagined. God exists, but God exists among us only in that form: as mutual love.

Felipe: I think that’s why Christ says that to that teacher of the law, because they used to be confused and thought that God was a God separated from the people. That you could commit injustices and then light a bunch of candles to God. At that time they thought God as a personage separated from people.

Elvis: Where there’s a community and everybody’s united and lives in community, that’s the real God, right? …. If that’s clear, everything’s clear.

Mark 12:32

“Wisely answered, teacher!” exclaimed the teacher of the Law. “It is true, as you say, that there is one God, and that there is no other besides him;

that one is our one
doesn’t make it the only one

holding one dearly lordly
is holding another’s one humbly

to confuse our one and one
is to lay kindling for war

to be quick to claim one
misses the much more in one

one stopped short of one
isn’t much of one at all

so cool it lawyer types
it’s not all about you

Social criticism advocates see a radical critique of the sacrificial system in this conversation between Jesus and an unnamed scribe. David Rhoads writes in Anderson175:

…the Marcan Jesus gives place to moral behavior over against physical wholeness. Mark shows through the many healings that it is God’s will to make people whole. Yet, rather than cause someone else to sin, it is better to cut off one’s own hand and enter the rule of God maimed than to have two hands and be thrown into Gehenna (9:42–49)…. This concern for morality over ritual purity and physical wholeness is evident in the “wise” statement of the scribe that loving God and the neighbor with the “whole” heart is more important than all the “whole” burnt offerings and sacrifices (pure animals without blemish, 12:32–33).

Wright171, echoes this:

The lawyer, musing on Jesus’ answer, draws out a meaning which Jesus hadn’t said out loud but which was certainly there. If these commandments are the primary ones; if this is what worshipping, loving and serving God is all about, then all that the Temple stands for, the daily, weekly and annual round of sacrifices and offerings, is virtually unnecessary. When a crisis comes, loving God and one’s neighbor still matters; sacrifices don’t.

Going back to the basics is a revolutionary act after years and generations of institutionalizing later specific experiences and details that became generalized ways of mediating an initial insight. The same revolution would be available to Americans should they return to the basic that general welfare is the single most important factor for a common defense. Every institution needs to rise from its own ashes of accumulated memes and habits that cover its creation.

Mark 12:31

The second is this – ‘You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

hold on there
not so fast
love is never

talk beyond
all you like
it is ever grounded
in here

no generality
without particularity
ever stood a test
in time

Partnership circles out in all directions. I put an “*” in Neighb*r to remind myself that this is an open category that is always larger than I’m ready for.

It takes only the first chapter in Genesis to know that we can’t say G*D without also saying Neighb*r or images of G*D. The claim is that one-ness, revealed in the partnering of G*D and Neighb*r, is basic to our engagement with meaning.

Against this, is the limiting factor of our acculturation as sung in “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”.

Sabin-2110 looks at the commandments:

By interweaving these three parts, Mark shows Jesus speaking as a scribe himself, that is, as a teacher of Scripture. Mark shows Jesus using a method typical of Jewish Scripture scholars and Wisdom teachers of the first century. The effect of this interweaving is to suggest that love of God implied love of neighbor and that both together are what constitute true worship.

In some ways this is the most important of the two commandments. Loving G*D is the easy religious response. To ask what it means to love G*D is the jump Jesus takes to again reveal his BIG (Beloved Image of G*D) authority. Loving of Neighb*r is a first act that shows one is loving G*D.

The command to love is ἀγαπήσεις (agapēseis, you will love), present in both commandments, is always found in communal relationships.

Mann481 reflects on the Leviticus context Jesus quotes:

The command by Jesus is set over against a command not to nurture hatred against one’s fellow, not to take vengeance or to bear ill-will. At the very least, therefore, we have enlightened self-interest in the sense of regard and concern for one’s fellow in not wishing for him or her what we would not wish for ourselves. Perhaps the best translation of agapē (given the current debasing of the word “love in contemporary English) is “sacrificial compassion.”

Mark 12:30

and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

abundant life fully full
energized committed
transforms dreams
builds scaffolds

to raise a generations-long
cathedral from ancestral bones
asks vision
implements partnerships

even before it falls
we rejoice in the building
with all our heart and being
with all our certainty and doubt

“Lord your God” is an appositional phrase where both words have the same referent. It is related to parallelism in Hebrew poetry. The dismal history of Lords and hierarchy when related to G*D over-point to a separated rather than shared image.

After establishing partnership as a one-ness, the first mentioned quality is love of Partner. At this point we can reflect on what Jacob B. Agus wrote in The Vision and the Way, “The love of God is the climax of piety, not its beginning.” Mann479 follows this with, “the command to love God is an aspiration expressed as an injunction.”

Mark reports Jesus’ playing with his quotation of Deuteronomy 6:5. This raises a question of how much play we see in our interaction with our reading of settled scripture.

“Heart” is still heart (in Hebrew thought, the heart is the center of our intellect). The second quality is more traditionally called “soul” (an inner source of will and desire). But then Jesus tosses in “mind” (not in the original and a synonym of “heart” in the Septuagint, LXX). And concludes with “strength”, but changes the LXX word from δύναμις (dunamis) to ἰσχύς (ischus). Presumably these are significant variants for Mark’s community.

Given the repeated use of “Let those with ears, hear”, the addition of “mind” to “heart” encourages us to ask second questions.

Regarding “soul” or “will” there is a danger in asking, “How do I know I love G*D?” The too frequent response is an equation of our will with G*D’s Law. This leads to measuring piety against piety in judging a legally required, minimum amount, of obedience. “Paul knew the insidious menace of establishing righteousness through legal obedience, but it must immediately be added that the Christian centuries have seen little mitigation of the menace”, Mann480.

Mark 12:29

“The most important,” answered Jesus, “is – ‘Hear, Israel; the Lord our God is the one Lord;

most importantly
love what you love
live what you love

most difficultly
know what you love
live what you know

most joyfully
know life loved
love life knowlingly

Jesus, ever the Jew, identifies the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) as a basic back ground. There is a unifying one-ness connecting everything. By definition such a one-ness goes beyond any definition of such. So “God”, as a word, is always pointing beyond itself—something like G*D, comes closer to a representation of that process of one-ness. An image of G*D must be partnered with G*D.

To limit the one-ness to language about “Lord” is too large and too small a designation. It might be said that whatever G*D might point to is partnered with everything else or “G*D is the one Partner”.

This definition, always in need of a next definition, is a meta-commandment running differently than the specifics of any subsequent description of consequence.

Beginning a response in such a way, gives a hint that there is additional mystery ahead. It also shows Jesus in accord with some of the Scribe and Pharisees over against the disputes to this point and following. This moment of accord asks the Reader to read critically and not to automatically port other negative comments into all settings. When this appreciation of a commonality goes missing, the Church of Jesus becomes defensive about its identity and insists on being offensive to its Jewish heritage.

Shema means “listen”. In light of other places where Jesus has used listening language, we experience Shema as a parable. Likewise, specific commandments need an appreciative response of Midrash and to be approached as a parable.

This quoting of the Shema as a starting point is described by Sabin295: “I think the incident fits coherently into Mark’s narrative if one sees him as presenting Jesus as himself a righteous Jew, desirous not of destroying the Temple but of restoring it to its first principles.”

We return to Baptizer John who gathered people beyond the Jordan that their baptism would return them from the wilderness and the experiences behind the Shema to their current life in Jerusalem. This needed restoration work in the midst of occupation is still needed.

Mark 12:28

Then came up one of the teachers of the Law who had heard their discussions. Knowing that Jesus had answered them wisely, he asked him this question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

when reaching the nub
light breaks beyond
another new reading
opens before young eyes

the settling of one question
beckons older ones
to reenter the scene
sniffing for resolution

the oldest seeking
the one main thing
running through
all else

bursts through propriety
not looking for middle ground
but a moment of unity
in which to finally die

What is the one ring to rule them all? This question has been around since at least Cain? This is a restatement of the question about eternal life and what need be in place for it to be grasped.

Earlier asked by a rich person and now asked by a religious person, this is a basic question about people, things, the universe and everything.

The shaping of this question grows out of an ambiguity in the Greek. Is the overheard dispute between Jesus and the Sadducees or only between the Sadducees as they reacted to the way Jesus reframed their question?

Readers will come to their own conclusion about whether this is a critical difference or just a grammatical nicety. Their response may be passed over until they are asked to read this verse to a community gathered to rehearse it to assist the consideration of some current question.

As this is a basic question of life, it is good to remember that a similar question was put to a contemporary, Rabbi Hillel the Elder (c. 40 BCE–10 CE), by a Gentile only a generation earlier: “How do you summarize the Law?” In response Hillel spoke of one version of a Golden Rule: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

A Reader is here given an opportunity to consider their own response to the question of which commandment stands at the head of all the rest. Before proceeding further, a reader here is gently requested to pause and reflect on their own understanding as though they were a beloved partner of G*D who had authority to say aloud what they saw as a central tenet of the way they live in the world.

Mark 12:27

He is not God of dead people, but of living. You are greatly mistaken.”

it is only the dead
who ask questions
about resurrection

as the living
have better questions
about living

that which comes after life
can never be known
until it is life again

it is a serious mistake
to mistake a dead question
for a lived application

This verse is mistranslated and misinterpreted about as much as any other verse in the New Testament, since a literal rendering is frequently understood to mean that God has no relationship to the dead. Such literal translations need to be abandoned in many instances, with a resultant complete recasting of the sentence, e.g. ‘These dead persons, for whom God is their God, are really living’; ‘he is the God of living people, including those who are regarded as dead but they are living’; or ‘If God is the God of certain people that means that they must have life, even though they have died’. These alternatives are admittedly extreme “paraphrases”, in the general sense of this term, but the only alternative in many languages is to state categorically that God has nothing to do with people after they are dead and that his only concern is for the living—an obvious untruth, but one which has been emphatically stated in numerous literal translations. ~ Bratcher380

This quote provides a much needed corrective to literalism even as it reveals a built in bias for a particular interpretation regarding a creedal understanding of G*D’s relationship with those who have died. This arena of speculation can be as fraught as that of what becoming undead might portend.

In some sense this is exactly what Jesus has been living. His returning of people to health and community is very much focused on the living. Readers will have to wrestle with how much stock to put in Jesus harking back to an older Hebrew understanding of dead is dead.

The Scholars Bible translates: “This is not the God of the dead, only of the living—you’re constantly missing the point!” The related Five Gospels104 and Jesus Seminar comments: “Most of the Fellows were inclined to think that this exchange betrays the situation of the Christian community after theological debate had been well developed long after Jesus’ death.”

For now rejoice and be glad to be alive.

Mark 12:26

“As to the dead, and the fact that they rise, have you never read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the Bush, how God spoke to him saying – ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?

what is claimed as resurrection
turns out to be
past still present
relating to what is not yet present
through intermediary today

asking about what is not known
has the delicious affect
of a magician’s favorite trick
working yet again
a big grinned open mind

rejecters of resurrection
find themselves in its midst
petard hoisted
blown by their own bomb
insufficient to do in reality

to claim mosaic descendancy
requires Moses resurrected
in every prophet
while each new Joshua
releads a relanding

Remembering that it is the Sadducees who hold the Books of Moses to be their highest authority, Jesus quotes from their own favored source—Exodus 3:2–6. Don’t you feel at least a touch of anger at having been caught at a basic point?

Those who tend to take their reading literally, are seldom happy when a clear point is muddied by an extension that causes conflict with either another clear point or the way it has come to be generally understood.

A reflection about how the present connects with the past has now become a point that connects the present with the future. The Sadducees are quite capable of disputing this leap while Mark is happy enough to leave that out. Whenever the Sadducees are later talking about Jesus, this moment will return to them to justify a deepening of their intra-Jewish rift with Jesus.

Accusing the Sadducees of ignorance of their own field of expertise in both their question and the presumptions behind that question clarifies, hardens, their resolve to win their war, regardless of how many battles such as this are lost. Literalness is forever falling prey to its initial reading. A lack of flexibility of a hard word in a changing context leaves it vulnerable to a final catastrophic fall.

Self-understood winning, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary, will show up in every generation of Jesus Disciples.

Mark 12:25

When people rise from the dead, there is no marrying or being married; but they are as angels in heaven.

to not be somethinged
or not be somethingized
is not to say what is

to make an analogy
presumes an accuracy
about what is like what

we are not to be married
to one another only
but marriage is a message

every marriage made in heaven
is an announcement
a glad tiding of partnership

partnership resurrects
ritualized social constructs
deconstructing back to life

The rising spoken of here is not about the seven brothers and one woman, but is generally impersonal about some future event that would include all who rose.

Rather than keep the male power here as those who marry and diminish female power by having them be given in marriage by another male, it is simpler to translate this as “neither shall they marry nor shall they be married” (Bratcher379). This steps us outside the limits of the original question and can apply in any culture that includes “marriage”.

With reference to angels we are right back at the beginning with Isaiah’s formal messenger (1:2), a helpful presence in the wilderness (1:13), and additional reference points at 8:38, 12:25, 13:27, 32.

Just as we need to take care with questions, we need to not incorporate into an image of angels the characteristics of ceramic figurines, Christmas ornaments, or a general sense of light. If we are not to limit G*D by our imagination of what rising in resurrection might mean, we are likewise bound to not let our imaginations limit what a partnership with G*D might be like if that partnership is described as angelic in nature.

It will be alright to make a jump here that sees an angelic presence that parallels Jesus’ call to live a living word. This side of rising we find all manner of ways to dismiss larger questions in favor of speculation about smaller details. One way to describe the difference between pre- and post-rising returns us to the wilderness scene where beasts (pre-) and angels (post-) were present. Everyone carries a rising along with them, tamping it down or encouraging its emergence. The mutuality of partnership acknowledges us as both beasts and angels.