It is hard to imagine a life characterized by such love. It is not that we do not want to imagine it. It is not like we have not tried to imagine it. On occasion, we have even caught glimpses of it. We see it in the young mom who returns for the fourth time in the night to comfort her inconsolable infant. It shows up in the foster parents who try to compensate for a childhood of trauma by welcoming the troubled teen into their hearts and home. It appears in the grown man who sits at the bedside of his dementia-ridden mother and patiently repeats himself day after day after day.
These glimpses of genuine and selfless love encourage us toward love for others. But we cannot imagine loving like this as a way of life. It would take too much. It would be too exhausting. “I don’t know how they keep it up,” we say with equal parts amazement and self-defense.
This kind of love, which we long to give and receive, is at the heart of Jesus’ response to the scribe in Mark 12:27-34. This text is not appointed for Reformation Sunday, but it is the Gospel reading for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. For those who may grow weary of reading John 8 every Reformation, this text could offer a fresh angle for proclaiming the good news of salvation by grace through faith.
It began with a question—probably a genuine question—from a scribe to Jesus. The job of a scribe was to understand, interpret, and apply the Torah for the people of God. It seems he was taking his job seriously. He recognized Jesus was answering His detractors well (Mark 12:28), and so he asked Jesus about the most important commandment. Jesus took him back to Deuteronomy 6: “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.” That is a lot to ask, of course. But Jesus added a second part: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no greater command, no higher order. Love God, completely, in every way. Love your neighbor just the same. The “not-far-from-the-kingdom” scribe was impressed.
There is no greater command, no higher order. Love God, completely, in every way. Love your neighbor just the same.
It is too bad we do not follow these commands. The world would be a much better place if we loved like this. We would be much better people. Our relationships would be much fuller. Creation would function like it should. Which is why God calls His people to love like this. And He still expects it. Part of your job, therefore, is to make sure your hearers take this command seriously and get after it.
But I wonder if Jesus is also thinking about Himself in this text. I wonder if He is thinking more about HIS love for God and HIS love for His neighbors. Remember where we are in the Gospel of Mark. We are already in Jerusalem. We have already witnessed the triumphal entry. We have seen Jesus’ zeal for His Father’s house. We are about to see what it looks like for Him to submit to God’s will through blood—both in a garden and on the cross. If there was ever one who loved God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, it was Jesus. If there was ever one who loved His neighbor even more than Himself, it was the One who was forsaken by God for His people.
When Jesus told the scribe he was not “far” from the Kingdom of God, we usually think of his understanding of the Law. We imagine Jesus was affirming his understanding. But perhaps Jesus had in mind the scribe’s spatial proximity to the reign of God (this would fit with the usual sense of μακρὰν as a reference to position or place). In Jesus, the reign of God had come near. Jesus was about to show the fullest and purest manifestation of love in His willingness to suffer. By submitting perfectly to the will of the Father, Jesus loved God by obeying Him, even to the point of death. Likewise, Jesus loved His neighbor—those who crucified Him, those who deserted Him, His own people who rejected Him, even the people gathered in your congregation this Sunday—by putting their well-being above His own. Indeed, His love for His neighbors did not only match His love for Himself, but far surpassed it.
Indeed, His love for His neighbors did not only match His love for Himself, but far surpassed it.
That is grace. That is the kind of love we all long to give and receive. But it is a love which can only be found in the heart of God. Lutherans define grace as something in God, not us, Favor Dei. It is God’s caring disposition toward His human creatures. And it is shown fully and purely in the work of Jesus for us. That is love. That is grace. That is what the Reformation was all about.
God calls us to love Him and each other, too. But for that kind of love to happen in our lives, we must first receive it from God. This is what happens as we hear again that the Lord our God, who is one with the Father, has loved and continues to love us divinely. He has forgiven and continues to forgive us for our inconsistent love for others. He is gracious to us and provides for all our needs of body and soul without any merit or worthiness in us. And in doing so, He prepares us to live in love toward others—especially those nearest to us.
This message of God’s love reformed the Church 500 years ago. It is the message that will reform your congregation this Sunday.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 12:28-37.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 12:28-37.