Strength of Faith.

And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” 

Over the months of Ordinary Time, (and we only have two Ordinary Sunday’s left) we spend our time dedicated to growth. We focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk the gospel path in Strength of Faith.

Over the past few months, we have encountered several instances of Jesus being questioned. On August 29th, we read that the Pharisees and some Scribes questioned Jesus on how his disciples ate their food – not strictly following the rules of the elders. On October 3rd, we read of Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees on the question of Divorce. Chapter 12 of Mark’s gospel narrative is replete with this questioning, with challenges.

The gospel writer was using these illustrations from Jesus’ life to help the first Christians, who were predominantly Jewish converts, understand Jesus and make sense of their faith. Should Jewish people pay taxes to Rome? What should one expect to happen in the resurrection? And today, what is the most important commandment?

In most of the cases we sense conflict and challenge; it was Jesus being confronted by those trying to entrap Him. Today, something different happens. A young Scribe breaks through the conflict to have a dialog with Jesus, to understand the nature of God better. The young Scribe as fully recorded in Mark 12:28 came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well He had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

The young Scribe sees the truth, realizes where the answers are, and in Strength of Faith overcoming societal pressures, peer pressure, and the duties of position approaches Jesus. That is what Strength of Faith does, it leads us to breakthroughs.   

Jesus recognizes the breakthrough and notes that the young Scribe is “not far from the kingdom.” The Scribe understands that doing right involves a total dedication to God, a carrying out of these great commandments of love, and its value. Living in this loving relationship with God and the other replaces burnt offering for the remission of sin since love overcomes sin and draws people away from sin.

Philo, the Jewish philosopher, argues that those who only love God or only love others are “half-perfect in virtue. The perfect have a good reputation in loving God and humans”

Jesus calls us to perfection of life by breaking through whatever holds us back from fully loving God and the others we encounter. To love requires we break through to do all we can to proclaim Jesus and serve our brothers and sisters.

Charity = Love

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. As Christians we are to always be prepared for the end times, for the last things, for we will be called to account for how we have carried out our lives, how totally on-board with Jesus we were. So, let us begin again today.

The scriptures for today introduce us to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on the end times. In the end it is how we live the commandment of love. The first reading from Exodus calls us to awareness of our obligation to others. It opens us to the idea that how we encounter others must be in line with God’s way of love. If it is not, the consequences. We will be killed with the sword; the voices of our accusers painting us with the blood from their suffering. 

Wow, that’s dark – but yes, it is that serious. In the language of scripture, particularly the New Testament, the word for love is the same word used for charity. That favorite wedding reading, and the greatest of these is love, is also translated, and the greatest of these is charity.

Our loving, our charity must be complete and other directed. In Exodus, God calls His people to account for how they actually live. Don’t just say it, don’t just pray it, don’t just speak it, live it. He reminds us that He hears of our actions, He sees what we do. We cannot hide.

Each day we walk the road to the end. Where we end up, how we are recompensed, is totally dependent on whether we are, as St. Paul says, a model for all the believers. Their testament in the end times: in every place [their] faith in God has gone forth. God grant that this be said of us.

The end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. We begin again today to approach the moment of accountability.

Jesus sets the ultimate standard of love and charity for which we are accountable. He stresses the interconnectedness of love for God and others. As St. John would later write: Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. Now it is up to us.

The reality goes beyond our usual ideas of what love/charity are. For God, our love is shown by our dedication, worship, and communication with Him, not forgetting Him. For others, it is more than dropping a few bucks. It is looking in their eyes and gaining an understanding of the truth of their pain – then showing love in working to relieve that pain. The end – let us not show up empty.

The
Goal.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

The age-old question, ‘How do I get to heaven?’ A young man, a legal scholar, approaches Jesus to ask exactly that. How do I receive a share of heaven, how do I inherit a place there?

Of course, the scholar came to the right person. Who better to ask than the King of heaven and earth, who dwelt in heaven from eternity? We will cover Jesus’ answer later.

For now, let us focus on the various attempts at human answers to the heaven question.

For some, heaven is an impossibility, a fantasy. It is something made up by primitive people who needed answers to the world’s mysteries. They have no need for an answer on how to get there because no one gets to heaven. Rather, they are readying themselves to flash out of existence.

On the opposite end are people with vague notions of spirituality. They have squishy notions of what heaven is, an indeterminant place of peace and contentment, the fulfillment of whoever conjures a fantasy of what it will be. In their estimation, everybody (except the usual suspects) gets to heaven.

The other major religions of the world have amazingly similar perspectives on how to get to heaven. It is as simple as checking off items from a to do list. For the Jewish people, it is the keeping of the Law. For Muslims, at a basic level, the following of the five pillars, righteous actions, and striving will lead to heaven.

God instructs us differently. Our call is to get to the core of all lists, laws, and rules. God’s way is love. So, how do we achieve our inheritance and get to heaven? It is faith based devotion of our our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds on the Lord. Love of God, in and of itself, is the first commandment. This love extends through and beyond God – and must also be focused on each person we encounter. With faith in Jesus as the way, we are to love, get to building the kingdom here and now, and thus gain the inheritance.