Love God

Image by Bessi from Pixabay 

Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

28 Then one of the scribes approached him. He had been listening to the discussion, and noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he put this question to him, “What are we to consider the greatest commandment of all?” 29-31“The first and most important one is this,” Jesus replied—‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. No other commandment is greater than these.” Phillips

This is one of the few times Jesus immediately responded to a question from the crowd. Clearly, Jesus knew this learned man was genuinely seeking an honest response; this was no trick. It was also a ‘softball’ question. Many in the crowd knew the answer.

Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4-5—Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strengthNET The second half of the answer comes from Leviticus 19:18. You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourselfNET

The line; You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength, is the first line of the Jewish Shema. The Shema opens morning and evening prayers and all synagogue services. It is a recitation of Deuteronomy 6:5-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41.

Initially, the Shema consisted of only Deuteronomy 6:5, probably during the Babylonian captivity. By the time of Jesus, it was generally in the form still used today.

32-33 “I am well answered,” replied the scribe. “You are absolutely right when you say that there is one God and no other God exists but him; and to love him with the whole of our hearts, the whole of our intelligence and the whole of our energy, and to love our neighbours as ourselves is infinitely more important than all these burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” Phillips

You may notice that the Scribe used different wording; he did not parrot Jesus. The reason? Scribes were professional wordsmiths. The best could write in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin with vocabularies in the 100,000-word range in each. It was second nature to go beyond the expected. Otherwise, why pay him to write for you. As well educated as Paul was, he still paid scribes to write most of his letters because he wanted just the right words to express the theology.

There is another consideration.

34 Then Jesus, noting the thoughtfulness of his reply, said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God!” After this nobody felt like asking him any more questionsPhillips

I don’t think that Jesus was taken by surprise. He knew the scribe was an honest man and I suspect Jesus was pleased that the scribe was willing to go to the trouble to paraphrase the Scripture. Jesus knew he was not just showing off. Besides, the scribe was a welcome relief from the badgering Pharisees.

We do need to consider two more points. The scribe was critical of the Temple worship, built as it was around burnt offerings and sacrifice. Jesus may have agreed with that statement in general terms, knowing that his sacrifice would replace those in Jerusalem. But he never spoke against sacrifices as such and often encouraged people to go to the priests and make the proper sacrifice after being healed of leprosy, etc.

How far from the Kingdom was the scribe? Jesus said, ‘not far.’ Is that as close as Peter? Closer than Judas? We cannot know exactly, but it is not something Jesus said of very many people. Hilary of Poitiers has this thought. The scribe, therefore, is not far from the kingdom of God when he acknowledges the one God who is to be loved above all things. But he is admonished by his own confession in that he does not fully grasp the mystery of the law as being fulfilled in ChristACCS

I’ll give Augustine the last word. This virtue consists in nothing else but in loving what is worthy of loveACCS

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

They Came to Jericho

Singing at Bible School Rehobeth Mennonite Church IL

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

Hebrews 7:23-28

Mark 10:46-52

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside beggingNIV

Recall that Jesus and his Twelve, plus many more disciples, had turned south for the last time. It was in verse 10:32 that Jerusalem was mentioned as the destination. Last Sunday’s lesson regarded the hubristic request by James and John to sit on either side of Jesus when he established himself on David’s throne. That exchange took place while they were walking along the road parallel to the Jordan River.

Today, we see them entering Jericho, a common stop for people headed to Jerusalem. It was a good place to rest and refresh before starting the last 15 miles to the city. That distance was not normally much of a hike for the ancients, but these 15 miles were all up hill—3,439 feet up.

We should also note that the majority of the 18,000 priests and 18,000 Levites lived in Jericho. They were divided into groups of about 700 and called to the Temple twice a year for one week of service. But Passover required all 36,000 of them, so, as Jesus walked through, most of the priest and Levites were already in Jerusalem, or soon would be. Because the road was well known for its robbers, most people waited in Jericho for just such a group as Jesus’ to tag onto for safety.

Luke 10:30-35;“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ NIV

Mark specifically adds the detail, together with a large crowd, so we should read that to mean others had joined him and his disciples. We should not consider them to be disciples; more likely they were seeking safety. Still, they would likely have heard of Jesus, and many may have decided to join the group just to learn more about the man of mystery.

Sadly, priests were mostly Sadducees. Few of them believed in life after death. They accepted only the Pentateuch as sacred, rejecting the prophets and other writings. As much as Jesus criticized the Pharisees, their beliefs were largely in agreement with what Jesus preached. At one point, Jesus said to his followers, listen to what they say, but do not do as they do. He seldom said anything about the Sadducees, good or bad.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke call Jesus’ miracles ‘miracles.’ John however, calls them ‘signs,’ and he included only seven of them. In total, there are about 40 in the four Gospels, but there are disagreements about some of them as well as with the total. Forty is a nice round number which also happens to appear frequently in the Bible.

Bartimaeus is unusual in a couple of ways. The identity of the person healed is rarely given. Even Peter’s mother-in-law is not named. Now, we have Bartimaeus and his father, Timaeus, both named. Why? We don’t know. It is wide open to speculation. I have read some of the common ideas, but we don’t know. Matthew reports this incident as two blind men, unnamed. Luke reports one unnamed.

All three report the man/men begging. All three report the man/men using much the same words. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” NIV

The title of Son of David is common in the NT, but used only twice in Mark, here and in 12:35 where Jesus uses it in connection with Psalm 110—yet another debate with the Pharisees. The title is the oldest one associated with the promised Messiah and the one held by nearly every Jew.

Once again, Jesus followers—probably including the Twelve—tried to get the man to shut up. Jesus is on his way to claim the throne of David. He doesn’t have time for a filthy beggar.

Once again, Jesus stops them. 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” NIV

The Greek word, tharseo, translated as: cheer up, take heart ESV, have courage BET, it’s your lucky day MSG, be of good comfort KJV, you lucky fellow TLB, cheer up NLT, take heart RSV, courage CJB. All contain the same message. Is it possible that the thick-headed disciples are starting to understand their Master?

50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

There are many speculations on how Bartimaeus was able to find his way to Jesus, but such questions miss the point. He was focused on Jesus as Jesus was focused on him. Besides, ninety percent of all blind people have some vision.

I am more struck with Jesus’ question. What do you want me to do for you? Jesus always listens without assuming he knows what someone wants, even though he always does know. Such an important lesson that nearly all of us fail to observe most of the time. There are times when no question needs asking, as when he healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

The response should be read on two levels—I want to see. Yes, he wanted his eyes repaired, but I wanted to see the truth within the Rabbi. He received both. Jesus told him to go, but Bartimaeus followed Jesus to Jerusalem, and I like to think he was still there at Pentecost and beyond.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence