Words to Build a Life On:
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.
Today we’re turning to a well known lesson from Jesus.
It comes at a tense time for him.
He’s being questioned by the leaders of the day:
All of whom wonder if he’s teaching the right things
Or leading his followers in the right way.
Some of them, Mark tells us, are trying to trap him
To get him to say something wrong
But he keeps astounding the audience with his answers.
Someone in the audience, after seeing this going on for a bit
Comes forward to clarify things
That’s where we start today, from the Gospel according to Mark.
I invite you to open your hearts and your minds
To this reading from holy scripture:
28 One of the scribes came near
and heard them disputing with one another,
and seeing that Jesus answered them well,
he asked Jesus, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’
‘The first is,
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
30you 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.”
31The second is this,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is no other commandment greater than these.’
32Then the scribe said to him,
‘You are right, Teacher;
you have truly said that
“God is one, and besides God there is no other”;
33and “to love God 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.’
34When 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.
And may God bless to us our reading
And our understanding
And our applying of these words, to how we live our lives. Amen.
I was reading this story again this week
And it had me thinking of a wonderful old story
Of the blind men and the elephant.[i]
Do you know that story?
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal
Called an elephant
Had been brought into town
But none of them had ever been near one.
None of them knew anything about elephants
What they were like, their shape or form.
Out of curiosity, they said
“We must find out!
We must go and touch and feel with our own hands!”
So they brought it out
And when it came near, they started groping all over it.
The first man, whose hand landed on the trunk of the elephant
Said “Oh, I know what this is. It’s a huge, thick snake. That is what an elephant is”
The second man, the one who reached for an ear
Said “No, no. That’s not right. This is more like a big fan,
useful for cooling us during hot summer nights!”
Another, who was in a different part of the room
Reached out and touched the elephant’s leg
And was confused:
“I don’t know what you two are talking about.
This is clearly a tree trunk.
The last guy felt around and grabbed the elephant’s tail
“you all are surely mistaken:
this is a rope.”
My favorite version of that story
Ends with the various people arguing over who has it just right
They devolve into acrimony and division
And the elephant, with what is something like a sigh
Walks out of the room, and leaves them to their argument.
This old story is meant to help us understand that sometimes we only see things
From our own particular points of view
And often there’s more going on
Beyond our perception, beyond our vision.
Sometimes care for one another
Love for one another
Requires that we worry less about being right
And more about affirming that we’re in this together
You and I.
Besides: we may only be seeing part of the elephant.
The other thing that I was reminded, this week
As I reflected on this passage from Mark
Is the wonderful and often curious ways
that the stories of Jesus get woven together.
The people who sat to write the good news down
Did so with a purpose. Each of them. And that purpose was unique to each author.
For more than forty years after the death of Jesus
these stories were passed around verbally
Friend to friend, parent to child, traveller to those gathered around a fire
And some of them would be written down for memory’s sake here and there
And compiled and shared some more
And they eventually found their way to the desk of the author of the gospel itself
Who was trying to tell the Good News about Jesus for a particular community. [Read more…]