Radical

G. K. Chesterton once noted that the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting; the problem is that it has never been tried. I think of that as I read again Mark 12. I’d encourage you to read the entire chapter, which is not printed here, but perhaps is summarized by the familiar passage below:

12:28 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?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 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. 33 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.” 34 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 doubt that Jesus said anything in the days between Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday that he had not said before. Perhaps a different shape, a different context, a different poignancy is given to the words because of where the gospel writer now locates them. The version of events as given by both Matthew and Mark shows that challenges were coming at Jesus from various interest groups. They seemed intent on having him answer one group in a way that would show him to be completely wrong in the eyes of another. Scribes, Pharisees, Saducees, Herodians, and just plain skeptics and unbelievers wanted their turns at asking the question which would expose Jesus.

“After that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” That’s the conclusion to the challenges, except that Jesus continued by adding some positive teachings of his own, demonstrating his wisdom as superior to that of his erstwhile interrogators. Should we have to pay taxes to a foreign occupier; is resurrection a coherent idea; what’s the most important command? This was followed by his own question, one which challenged assumptions about ideas that didn’t normally receive challenges—concerning what type of messiah they were anticipating, what kind of salvation they expected. The section closes with the example of a widow who got it; she trusted God implicitly with everything she had. She knew what the love of God with heart, soul, mind, and strength really meant.

What I’d like to suggest for our thinking is that what Jesus provides in his encounter with all of the challenges presented is an example of what we should be in our apologetics and in our living of the faith. There is nothing in what he had to say that relied on his divine insights beyond what was already in the revealed word of the Hebrew scriptures. His manner was one of calm assurance that comes from the knowledge of the truth—not of particular phrases from the text, but from the whole of the text. Wisdom. And it’s the kind of wisdom that stood out then as radical. Not irrational, not non-rational, but radical. At the root. Not asking about anticipated consequences.

The radical love of God with all of our being and of our neighbors as ourselves is radical. It’s in the widow in a way not found in the scribe. It isn’t often tried. I doubt that it will be found wanting if it is tried. The matter before us is to reflect on where it will take us today.

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