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.

King of what?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.

Here we are at the end of our weeks considering Jesus’ teachings on the end time, the last things. Today, Jesus gives us a vision of what that day of days will look like.

Throughout these weeks, the Apostles in their writings, John’s letter, Paul’s letters, kept reminding us of who we are in Christ. John told us we are God’s children – we represent Him. Paul told us that we have power as imitators of Jesus and that we will be caught up with Jesus in the clouds; that we are in the light – not in darkness. We are reassured that we belong to Jesus. Belonging to Him is more than a superficial statement, it is an all-encompassing change in who we are and how we approach daily life.

In this vision of the future, a view into that day of days, we come to grips with the accountability God will demand of us. Jesus points to judgment based on our obligation to live out the commandment of love, seeing in the other the image of God. Did all-encompassing change take hold of me? Did I make Jesus happen in my life and in the world or keep Him stored away? Was I that saint of God in the world – in the smallest ways? Have I used the oil of grace given me, or toss it aside? Did I grow the kingdom one meal, one drink, one coat, one welcome, one visit at a time?

I pray to God I can answer yes and be forgiven those times I missed the chances I had to minister to the Lord in the other. I know I have tripped and fallen along the way, I have missed chances, sometimes purposefully. Forgive me those sins!

As we celebrate this Solemnity of Christ the King, Lord call us back into conformity with Your Lordship and Your Rule. Forgive us of the opportunities we have missed. When we come to that next encounter with Your image in the other, give us the grace to see in the other’s poor, hungry, naked, thirsty, lonely, and apart eyes Your Royal presence. Recall to us Your Kingship.

Some Churches have renamed today’s Solemnity to Christ the King of the Universe. I ask you to consider how limiting that is! If Jesus’s kingship is limited in any way, He is not King. Rather, let us commit to the fact that Christ is King of every universe, every dimension, things seen and unseen, of my life, heart, soul, spirit, and mind, of my home and family, of the action of my hands, and of how I see every person, the other I encounter.

In these last days Lord, recall to us the all-encompassing change You have called us to be in the world. Lord, when You come in Your glory to rule over and above all, find us having accomplished all You have called us to do and more so.

You have heard
it said.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

As we discussed last week, this Pre-Lenten season’s readings are taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teaching there take the Commandments of God and instruct us in the way we are to understand and live them. 

Jesus commandments, His way, His fulfillment of the old Law, His right interpretation is for us, so we can truly live. Yes, it is for us, as we heard last week: to make us great in the kingdom!

In this season of preparation, we are to turn and focus on living in the way Jesus defines. We are to live His way without limit and in striving to do so, wash away the ways we fall short. As we will hear in today’s closing prayer, we are to move toward committed love and faithful work for the Kingdom.

Living in a genuine way is not easy. Of course, it is easy to say we are genuine, I’m the ‘real me’ when we go about doing whatever we want, what we choose. Unfortunately, that is the power of sin, it blinds us to the way we are to strive for; the way ‘just being me’ isn’t good enough for the Kingdom. My being me should never be good enough for me. It should not be good enough for you, the people around me.

As faithful and devoted Christians, we know that we fall short in ways big, small, and perhaps in ways only known to ourselves. As such, let us take this season to evaluate where the fixes are needed, where I fall short of the Kingdom life I am to live.

God told the Israelites to: “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” That is a super high standard, but indeed, as the lessons from the Sermon on the Mount tell us, we have a gap to cover, a ways to go, but that we can do it.

It is important that we not despair in our frequent failure to live up. Where despair is called for is in any lack of trying, and lack of self-assessment, any attempt to ignore the blindness sin instills. 

Committed love calls for faithful work. Bringing the ideals of the Kingdom life to reality in our lives will not kill us. In fact, they will inoculate us so we can enter the Kingdom with heads held high, so we can enter as the great in the kingdom!

As we enter this new week, let our self-examination focus on the ways revenge, hate, resistance, ‘opionatedness,’ or limitation exist in our lives. Let us remember that to be great we must see and rise above (recall this is a year of politics) and live the Kingdom life.