August 2023

‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’ Mark 12:34 (NRSV).

Our saying today comes towards the end of Jesus’ life as he is asked by one of the scribes in the Temple: ‘What is the greatest commandment?’.  Jesus replies: ‘Love the Lord your God and love your neighbour as yourself’.  When the scribe wholeheartedly agrees that these commandments are much more important than offerings and sacrifices, Jesus commends him by saying: ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’.

Like that scribe, I ask myself which is the most important of my many obligations.  What should be first in my list of priorities, what is my most important duty?  Jesus answers here in disarming simplicity: love.  Love is the most important thing I can ever do - it includes all my duties and obligations, all the commandments.

The two most important commandments are about love, not about rules.  If I wholeheartedly agree with this and put it into practice in my life then, like the scribe, I will not be far from the Kingdom of God which is within me and among us.  When we are committed to love, we are not far from the kingdom of God.  Love is the open door to the Kingdom of God.

A constant theme of Jesus is the central place of love in real religion.  It can be easy as church people to protect ourselves with the small details of religion and faith whilst neglecting the often-challenging demands of love.   Loving God with everything we are and loving everyone else without exception is our highest duty.  Our contemplative prayer and religious practice must always be in the service of love.

And in all of this Jesus tells me to love others as I love myself.  Do I feel called to love myself, as I am?  Or do I feel guilty when I try to do so, feeling that I am being selfish?  Jesus seems to imply the contrary: I will not be able to love others unless I love and care for myself.  Our own self-care is important – after all that is why God created the Sabbath rest for us.

The most important thing in life then, is to have a loving heart, which is very demanding but also very rewarding and our highest calling: ‘For God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them’ (1 John 4).