Every week, one of our faculty writes a short article that goes out with our school letter. Last year, I got by as the “newbie,” and didn’t have to write one. Alas, this year that is not the case.
But I was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. So here it is:
The Eighteenth Week after Pentecost
The Scribe replied, “Teacher, You have spoken the truth. For there is one God and only one God, and to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves are more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice we could ever give.” Jesus heard that the man had spoken with wisdom. “Well said; if you understand that, then the kingdom of God is closer than you think.” Nobody asked Jesus any more questions after that. – Mark 12:32-34 (The Voice)
Eighteen Sundays have come and gone since the Church celebrated Christ’s ascent to the right hand of the Father and the subsequent coming of the Holy Spirit. The fourth week of school is in full swing. For clergy, students, parents and teachers alike, a certain sense of the ordinary has settled in. The rhythm of school and work and sports has, for the most part, become routine as our calendars and watches seamlessly synchronize with the activities in which we find ourselves engaged.
For each of us, though, every day is an opportunity for illumination. As many churches around the world pause to reflect upon the liturgical selection found above, I too pause to reflect on what it means to be teachable in the midst of the ordinary. Do I, as the scribe, ask questions for my own ends? Do I seek the knowledge of God’s kingdom to justify myself, or to know Jesus intimately? Therein, of course, lies the rub. Just as the scribe who questions his yet unrecognized Messiah, I must genuinely assess whose kingdom I am truly serving.
Yet this story offers hope, especially for those of us with obstinate natures. John Calvin notes, “…it is worthy of notice that, though he had attacked Christ maliciously, and with the intention of taking him by surprise, not only does he silently yield to the latter, but openly and candidly assents to what Christ had said. Thus we see that he did not belong to the class of those enemies whose obstinacy is incurable,” (Harmony of the Gospels, Volume XVII). I have always loved Calvin’s phrasing: silently yielding, candidly assenting. Here, in Mark 12, we find an individual who not only knows when truth has been spoken, but who also allows that truth to melt any agenda that had hardened his heart and mind. That is what it takes to not be overcome by the rote or the mundane; this is the attitude needed to overcome the feeling that we have it all figured out.
As a teacher, this is often an acute struggle for me, and I am sure many others feel the same sting. Yet illumination is a daily opportunity. As I read, I begin to wonder: am I willing to hear the difficult answers when I ask a question? Are we, as a community, open to having our priorities shifted or altered so that we are aligning ourselves with God’s Kingdom? Do I allow my own comfort or malaiseto rob me from seeing God’s redemptive work in the regular days of my life? Are we lost in the ocean of the ordinary, unable to find our way off this unspectacular route that seems so endless?
The answer, I believe, is found in the words of Jesus: “if you understand [the great commandments], then the kingdom of God is closer than you think.” Love God. Love people. That is our compass which points to the abundant life, the life less lived (John 10:10). I’m reminded of Chuck Colson, a man who thought he had it all figured out until he allowed the truth of Christ to melt his own agenda into something kingdom-oriented. At the end of his days, Colson had this to say: “One of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that I don’t ever get up in the morning and wonder if what I do matters. I live every day to the fullest because I can live it through Christ and I know no matter what I do today, I’m going to do something to advance the Kingdom of God.”
May each of us incline our hearts and minds to Jesus, that we may be co-conspirators in His Kingdom.