Love God

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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

Oh God, My God

Image by MAMADOU TRAORE from Pixabay

 

Exodus 3:1-15

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Luke 13:1-9

Psalm 63:1-8

Many Christians and many non-Christians have difficulty reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New. The story of the capture and subjugation of the “land of milk and honey,” is bloody and brutal. That story also supported the Europeans in the invasion of the Americas—kill those who will not submit.

We don’t have enough time or space to look at the many questionable passages here, but we have part of the answer in the reading from Exodus. As Moses approached the burning bush, God said, Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy groundESV

In this account, the holy ground is at Horeb, also called the mountain of God. As we read through the Bible, we come to realize that holy ground is wherever God interacts with His people. The true meaning, then, is that all ground is holy because God is everywhere.

We can learn about God’s actions in ancient times by a careful look at Horeb. While you can visit Horeb today, to do so will require visiting several mountains that claim to be the mountain of God. It is somewhere in the Sinai, which is much larger than Israel itself. Horeb may refer to a range of mountains of which Mount Sinai is one.

That is fine. We know God is everywhere, so why have tour buses lined up around one place, where hawkers are selling genuine photos of God, autographed?

The first message of this reading is that God is here. Wherever I am, He is here.

Verse 4 gives us another lesson in the form of two names for God. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bushESV

The first name used is Lord, in Hebrew, Yehwah, or the Tetragrammaton. It is יהוה in Hebrew and is considered the name God allows humans to know, though not His true name. His true name has never been revealed to us. By the First Century, speaking the name was allowed only to priests in the Temple. When the name appears in a reading, Jews, then and today, substitute another name—generally Adonai, or HaShem (The Name). Yehwah is used 5,410 times in the Old Testament.

The name translated as God, in this case, is Elohim. El is a generic name for a god in Hebrew. Elohim is used for the One True God in the Bible. Elohim is the name used in verse 6. I am the Elohim of your father, the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of JacobESV But we also see El used alone to mean the One True God. El is the name used by David in Psalm 63—Oh El, You are my El.

Lest we get hung up on one name, the Bible has dozens of names for God. The name to use is the one that best fits a situation. [Sidelight: Jehovah comes into English from German scholars. In German, the yh sound is best matched with j. The y in German is nothing like it is in English. So, in English, the name should be pronounced Yehovah which is the way Germans pronounce it.]

Verse 9 reads, And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress themESV There are a couple of things to consider here.

First, God knows what is happening to the Hebrews. He chose them before they were a people when He called Abram to follow Him. God planned for Abram to have 12 great-grandsons and for them to wind up in powerful Egypt. The descendants spent centuries there, knowing little of their past. Eventually, they were forced into slavery.

We do not know the extent of their slavery. In the preceding chapters of Exodus, we read that slavery was designed to exhaust the men so that they would not father so many children.  Failing that, Pharaoh ordered all male babies to be killed. This is the reason for the account in Matthew of Herod ordering the deaths of all male children under age two and of the escape of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus into Egypt. Egyptians saved Jesus as they saved Moses.

Point two. The Hebrews were not the only people on earth who were harshly treated, yet they were the only ones rescued by God. It was not because they were faithful to God, nor was it because of the faithful midwives of chapter 1.

God chose the Hebrews centuries before they became Hebrews. Over many centuries, God gave the people lessons about his power; culminating at first in the Exodus, then in the kingship of
David, and finally in Jesus.

We must never forget that God chose us, not that we chose Him. Our only choice is to accept God, or not.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence