The gospel lesson from Mark is on the greatest commandment. When asked, Jesus replies it is to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. If we did this, if humanity could pull this off, it would be enough.
However, Jesus takes it one step further and informs us what the second greatest commandment is. To love your neighbour as yourself. Again, if we could get this right we would be okay.
It seems that the theme is love. Can we live out what Jesus is asking us?
Scripture: Mark 12: 28-34
I want to tell you about a time when I was seven years old and was accused of racism. I grew up in Scarborough. On one side of us were the Yearwood’s, my first baby-sitters. John and Richard, two of the funniest people I know. Their mom Sheila was a nurse, the one we called if something happened. They were black.
On the other side were the Gibbs. Cary was a year older than me, my first friend. They were also black. One day when I was in around grade 2 Cary and I were on a bike ride in the neighbourhood. We met some other kids and they wanted to go to the other side of the neighbourhood. Cary and I weren’t supposed to go there. I decided I would, I wanted to see what the other side of the neighbourhood had to offer. Cary didn’t, he stuck to his guns. The other kids, and me, called him names. Chicken and scaredie cat. That sort of thing.
The other side of the neighbourhood was a massive disappointment. It looked like my side of the neighbourhood. When I got back home Cary’s dad was outside. I can’t remember everything he said, but he was upset. I do remember him saying, “Is it because of the colour of his skin?”
I had no clue what he was talking about. I had never considered the colour of Cary’s skin. He was my friend, I treated him badly that day. However, his dad thought that me and the other kids, who were all white, had taunted him because of race. I was seven, younger than my own children are now. It took me over twenty years to realize that what I had been accused of was racism. At that time it was a foreign concept to me. I don’t hold it against Mr. Gibbs. Cary and I remained friends for a few more years until they moved and eventually we lost touch as we went to different high schools.
The world teaches hate. Mr. Gibbs reacted the way he did, because the world had treated him poorly because of the colour of his skin. This is what the world teaches, hate. If you watched Saturday Night Live the other week the cold open spoofed the meeting with President Trump and Kanye West. At the end Kanye gives the President a hug and the voice over from Alex Baldwin is, “don’t check your wallet, don’t check your wallet … still there!”
The commandment of the world today is ‘hate thy neighbour’. That is what the world teaches. It might not want to, it might be inadvertent, but it is the message that many people around the world hear. You are not welcome, you are not wanted. There is a migrant caravan from Hondurous heading the US/Mexico border. It won’t arrive for another week or two, but over 5000 US soldiers have already been ordered to the border. A decision borne out of fear for the other and a lack of hospitality. Now, I’m not interested in entering into a debate about immigration and US border policies. However, perhaps a larger conversation on a global scale about why people are fleeing in the first place is required.
When we think about loving our neighbours in this way, beyond our physical next-door neighbour and we consider the people living in different regions of the world as our neighbour it changes the context of the conversation. What we need to realize is that much of the rhetoric that we hear tells us we should fear and hate our neighbours. We should fear refugee’s looking for a better life. We should fear immigration. We should fear people who have different skin colour.
It’s what the world teaches. Walk down the street, see a black guy, cross the street. Hatred and distrust. It frustrates me so much because my own experience growing up taught me the exact opposite. There are forces at work, powers which seek to destroy the Kingdom of God. These powers want us to live in fear and distrust. They want us to forget who we are and who God has called us to be. They want us to keep silent and stop proclaiming the powerful truth about Jesus. That death has been overcome.
We assign worth to other people outside of the ways that God asks us to. Jesus says love your neighbour. There are no conditions attached to that. There is no comma, the word but does not appear, there are no exceptions. Yet, we insist on creating artificial barriers on how we love people. We do this out of fear. To quote Yoda from Star Wars, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Friends, the world is suffering because we refuse to love our neighbours. Death to many is acceptable by many. It is acceptable to many because it is the easy choice, because it does not inconvenience us, because we have grown numb to a troubled world. And rather than doing something about it we cling to our fears as if they will protect us.
Jesus says something interesting to the scribed. He says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” What does this mean? How many steps further is it? What else is required? What is the critical step that the scribe is missing? How does he get there? Friends, the final step is to follow Jesus.
But if we aren’t loving our neighbours, then we aren’t following Jesus. If we simply profess things with our mouths, but then do nothing about it. If we don’t demonstrate that love, we are not following Jesus. It’s an empty platitude and Jesus isn’t interested in that.
This passage in Mark’s gospel about the scribe demonstrates that love for God and neighbour are central and that they must be lived out. Not just empty words. Because Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and we need to follow him.
What does the kingdom of God look like? It looks like love?
Love looks like Jesus hanging on a cross taking all of our sin and brokenness and saying, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Except we do know what we are doing. We know what is right and what is wrong. We need to live in a way that God can use us. We need to live in a way which demonstrates love. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.