“And What of Your Neighbor?”

Mark 12:28-34, October 31st, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim


Hear now this lesson from the gospel account according to Mark, chapter twelve verses twenty-eight thru thirty-four.”

Mark 12:28-34

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ — this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

“Having listened to Jesus’ answer, regarding the greatest Commandment, how do we apply this to our personal and our communal faith journey’s?”

“And What of Your Neighbor?”

Becoming an adult – is an awesome experience – leaving behind the awkwardness of adolescence and the lack of freedom, which we children felt as our parents, our guardians sought to ‘show us’ how’ to ‘become’ adults.  One chore, one set of guidelines at a time.  Yet, as we have become adults, we also have come to realize that those who influenced us the most and helped us the most – were those that lived their lives as: loving, responsible adults.  This is a vital and crucially important lesson, as we adults have come to embrace the fullness and the magnitude of what it means, truly means, to grow into mature and responsible adults.  The world we live in would be a lot more functional if we all could simply agree on this fundamental and simplistic thought!  Taking responsibility for our lives, learning to clean up our own messes, just like ‘mother’ always said, “hang up your own clothes, make your bed”.  We were also taught all those other personal chores, which we all need to learn to do.  Personally, some of us, like myself, never learn the fullness of these until we had been in boot camp: in the Army, Navy, Marines, or the Air Force.  Nothing like having a loud Technical Instructor, a T.I. with five or six strips on his sleeve, yelling in your ear, to get the point across as to who is responsible for our own hygiene, and personal items!      

With the role of increasing maturity comes added responsibilities.  The basics which are taught in those early weeks, which a young recruit in the military learns quickly, if not at those early stages of youth in the home of one’s early youth.  The things we are accountable for, our accountabilities begin to mount up and can even overwhelm us, if, we do not first accept the responsibilities that come with growing up.  Ultimately, we become aware of our personal needs and finally, becoming aware of the fact that we are part of a family, a team or even a platoon of soldiers who have tasks, duties and obligations which need to be accomplished.  Furthermore, we learn that we are not alone.  We must interact with those around us.  Whether we are happy, sad, or mad, regardless of our mood, others still co-exist all around us.  The Bible often refer to these others as our neighbors.  Our scripture lesson has Jesus telling us that the Second Greatest Commandant is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are going to need to unpack that thought this morning, in order to fully grasp and learn its meaning!  And we shall, just as soon as we embrace the enormity of what Jesus is saying as he answers the scribe’s “loaded’ question!

Along the way we all need to acquire some knowledge and, in the doing, become educated; meaning we need to learn how to think!  Education is part of growing up.  We begin acquiring knowledge at our mother’s knee and from all our relatives and friends.  The people we meet add to our learning. It is a fact that children mature and acquire knowledge more quickly if they have a good homelife and live in a good community that offers the opportunity for everyone to attend a good school. What I just stated gets kicked around a lot, by folks of opposing views, but it is a fact not a question.  Location, location, location… matters!  My wife and I visited my brother in New Jersey a few weeks back.  A good visit.  He and his wife have lived in the same home for most of their married life, in a very nice neighborhood with great schools.  We went to their fiftieth wedding anniversary five years ago.  It was nice to see them again.  While chatting my brother talked about the fact that all his children went to college, and all have become successful in their lives.  Spoken as a proud father.  Location, quality education and a good home life… they all make a difference!

As our ‘God given’ cognizant abilities and attributes, our characteristics take hold we grow into a mold designed by God, influenced by those we grow up with and interact with.  Most certainly as we mature so do our abilities to make choices and decisions, some good and some perhaps, less than perfect.  Also, the biases of our upbring, our partialities and preferences are formed, and also our prejudices.  We all have these properties and despite what we are told, these are not all negatives.  If you grow up wearing sandals because you live near the beaches of Florida, you will be predisposed, to want to live near the ocean and wear sandals!  That’s just how it is!  So, what has all this to do with the lesson Jesus was preaching in this accounting of his encounter with a scribe asking a simple, yet complex question?  Everything.  For the scribe brought his understanding of life to the discuss as did Jesus.  And here we are with our own understandings of life. The scribe’s question was asked on behalf of those he associated with, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the High Priests that were annoyed with Jesus; annoyed for making waves (due to the crowds that Jesus so easily attracted), thus making waves in their relationships with the Romans, who were the oppressors within the social system they lived. These religious elite got perks for keeping the people quiet and submissive.   

Some would want to believe that the scribes were questioning Jesus to learn more about the elements and priorities of moral axioms and laws.  Sadly, it would seem that: the full gospel accounts would bear witness to other motives.  Today, for the purposes of gaining more insights into Jesus’ responses to the scribes’ questions we shall focus on the depth, the breath, and fullness of Jesus message.  But we cannot dismiss the realities, the influences that overshadow the scribe’s question that day.  In contrast, we are biased by the influences of this current time, here in the Twenty-First Century.  Most mature adults, mature Christians at least, honor the words attributed to the teachings of Jesus.  Thus, we need to do our best to grasp the fullness of this scripture lesson.  As we listen to the response from Jesus let us consider his time-period verses ours.  The man Jesus was influenced by his own upbringing, yet his relationship to the Word of God, which we have come to believe he represented, dramatically changes how we hear his answer.  As adults, let us review this historical conversation carefully, as we must add its wisdom to our accumulation of knowledge.

The scribe asked Jesus “which Commandment was the Greatest.”  The responding answer is written with clarity as Jesus was clear with his answer, which does sum up the first four commandments in a very meaningful and sweeping way.  All of the (4) four ‘you shall’(s) are covered.  You shall have no other gods before Me, making no idols, not taking the name of the Lord your God in vain, and keeping the Sabbath day holy.  Honoring your father and your mother is implied through inference, as God was and still is referred to as ‘Father’ of us all.  Of course: Modern interpretations would see God as the Creator, neither male nor female.  The focal point, however, is that Jesus’ response draws on all the first five Commandments, making his response more a summary of them, rather than a new declaration!  Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” /Mark 12:29 & 30/

Astonishingly, Jesus seems to befuddle and bewilder those asking the question, especially when Jesus adds to his response regarding the second most important commandment.  Although the scribe is said to have responded wisely, it is not clear in the text of this passage that he embraced Jesus’ summary of the second greatest Commandment, as it appears to be a summary of the sixth thru tenth commandments, the ‘you shall not(s)’.  You shall not commit adultery,You shall not steal,You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; and You shall not covet.  In stark contrast Jesus crafts his statement which cuts to the core of all that the remaining five Commands speak of!  Yet, Jesus’ statements reverse the ‘Shall not(s)’ into a positive attribute of what we are to do!  Love, love our neighbors as ourselves!  Jesus says, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  /Mark 12:31/

We honor God, when ‘we do not put’ all our other priorities ‘ahead’ of our personal faith journeys.  We must focus toward building our relationship with God, thus – making God our first priority.  When we stop lifting-up fame and fortune as “icons” which we idolize rather than the teachings and works of Moses and Jesus – we honor God.  When we honor others, such as our parents, our caregivers and first responders – we honor God.  When we stop dishonoring the God of Love, the God of forgiveness and the attributes of kindness and service – we honor God.

We love our neighbors when we – support and contribute to the rights of others.  And we love our neighbors when we treat them as our equals.   And let us not forgot the words of world leaders such as Abraham Lincoln who so long ago spoke to us during his Gettysburg Address, on November 19th, 1863.  “All are created equal.”  Today: Jesus said unto us: “Love your neighbors as yourself!” 

And finally, “What of your, neighbor?”  They too, like me, and you, we all want to be considered and treated equally.

Amen.

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