Mark 12:37

David himself calls him ‘lord,’ how comes it, then, that he is to be his son?”
The mass of the people listened to Jesus with delight.

how delightful
watching bigwigs squirm

new synonyms muddy old waters
old verities collide into new elements

that beyond our ken
resides within our loins

previous assumptions
break open when talked through

watching systems change
how unsettling

Jesus has found a fault line in the scriptures that were currently in use about the Messiah. What had been a tool to keep the Messiah just out of reach, has been flipped and the crowd goes wild—a rookie has bested the veterans. The heartbreak of defeat has turned into the release of victory.

Of course one set-up battle is not a proven way to win a war.

To catch a better glimpse of what was at stake in the gotcha sermon illustration, listen to Myers164,

In the Temple again, Jesus finally addresses the question of Davidic Messianism directly. Here “sonship” has to do not with genealogy, but with political ideology. The scribes assumed that the Messiah would act to restore the Davidic monarchy, and that this would further aggrandize their own position. But citing Psalm 110, Jesus reverses the equation: Even David is subordinate to the sovereignty of God. Jesus has no interest in rehabilitating the old dreams of Davidic empire, for it is the politics of domination that is the problem.

Wright174, keeps it a bit more within the usual lines of expectation but still extends the question of the vehicle through which G*D’s presence will have effect in the world,

What we find…is a challenge to the idea that the Messiah will be simply a king from David’s line. He will be David’s Lord as well as David’s son.

Humans like to set up rules about how things will be set right again, where both justice and mercy are experienced as parallel concepts. One tradition has been about bloodlines and so Jesus must be born in David’s royal city and be a Davidic descendant through his absent father, Joseph. This scene questions a Reader’s requirements for healing individuals and whole systems—dominion or partnership?

Mark 12:36

David said himself, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – ‘The Lord said to my lord: Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies beneath your feet.’

all titles of power
devolve to none
lords are lords
lording it over kings
who are never queens
who are never jacks
until kings are lords
lording it over fiefdoms
where all must agree
divine rights
are the cat’s pajamas
made of finest threads
as if they were nothing
in the end
the clothes of all lords
hide basic commonness

Behind every literalist is someone seeking to establish order on the universe that is based on their experience over against the experience of anyone else. The impetus for order has some helpful qualities to get us through life—though good habits are harder to break as we can avoid facing their consequences. Bad habits don’t afford that luxury.

Being able to connect dots from David to Messiah soothes a slower transition in the midst of change—this, at least, is still something we can rely on.

Christian Zionists who require a Jewish return to Jerusalem face the same difficulty as the scribal straw-man Jesus is facing here—folk wisdom raised from “common sense” to “authorized truth”. In this case, the attribution of all the Psalms to David is getting us into this riddle that will have to face competing scriptures, rather than have one verse rule all others.

The starting point of requiring a Davidic heritage to any subsequent leader is pointed toward in the categorization of the Psalm 110 as a royal psalm. A footnote in the CEB Study Bible996OT says this Psalm reflects “…the reality of life in Babylon and the beginnings of life after the return to Jerusalem, may indicate post-exilic hope for restoring the Davidic monarchy.”

The privilege of reestablishing a ruling power will gather its support wherever it can. It is then less of a mystery about how this verse becomes the most quoted Hebrew Scripture in Church Scripture referring to Jesus—as monarch, duly instituted by G*D and set to Christianize the whole world, at a minimum, through an apocalyptic end time of sorting sheep from goats, good seed from bad weed.

The issue of requiring this ambiguous “Lord” who takes precedence over King David is prelude to the way the early church changes Jesus from Mark’s preferred language up to this point—the “son of adam”, a “human one”—into “The Only Son of G*D”.

Mark 12:35

While Jesus was teaching in the Temple Courts, he asked, “How is it that the teachers of the Law say that the Christ is to be David’s son?

from time immemorial
sound good phrases
doubling as institutional justification
embed themselves as given
in teaching a next generation

time marches on
carrying unsupported baggage
capitalized truth capitalized
down dim corridors
past every question

flat-earthed earth centrism
has much observational data
grounding past wondering
until one stray data point
unravels the whole scheme

Here begins another riddle in the same form as Baptizer John’s formulation that someone coming after him comes before him.

This question for the scribes of Jesus day is also one for the fundamentalist or literalist of any generation. The starting place of privileging one verse above all others to prove a point.

Once a premise has been laid down, we will do all manner of mental gymnastics to justify how it is the controlling verse for all else.

Our desire to be right often comes at the expense of the sweet mysteries of life. Bratcher388 identifies a problem with this verse comes when a physical link is required between David and Messiah (staying with the Hebrew terminology rather than the Greek, Christ, helps clarify the issue). That link is weak in Mark as he doesn’t establish this marker as clearly as Matthew’s birth story connecting Jesus’ birth place with David’s—Bethlehem.

Orthodoxy asks the translator to stick with a literal translation that would raise any question about the necessity of a Davidic ancestry for Messiah, as though something were impossible for G*D or to put G*D in the role of Herod, that once a pronouncement is made it can never be un-announced. Thus Bratcher’s problem:

… the form would seem to deny the fact that Jesus was the offspring of David. To avoid this implication, which may be much stronger in some languages than in the Greek or English, one may be obliged to insert “merely” or “just”, e.g. “the Christ is just the son of David”, implying inferiority of status.

Is “son of David” a physical descendent or anyone, for any reason who can establishes a claim of Messiahship?

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.