Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, June 17th  

Love.  It’s both a noun and a verb.  Yet often times it seems like in the church we’re better at talking about it as a concept, subject or noun as opposed to actively, creatively and imaginatively doing it.  As I wrestle with the passage for this Sunday I’m struck by the two encounters including in the proposed reading.  The first is a hypothetical situation posed as a philosophical conundrum by the religious rulers of the day (the Sadducees).  Jesus responds directly, bluntly telling them that their question isn’t the correct one to be asking.  Rather than dealing in hypotheticals, they should be living in reality, not wondering who is the neighbor they should love, but actually practicing what they preach.  I read that and wonder how it interrogates me and challenges my life?  How do I practice love more as a noun than as a verb?  And is it an either/or situations or a both/and one?

Theological Themes:
These two encounters wrestle with 2 principle theological questions: the Resurrection – or afterlife – versus life here and now on earth.  The second has to do with the commandments, how our ethical choices reflect and actually express our religious convictions and identity-shaping worldview.

What does Jesus say about life after death and life here and now?  Does he prioritize them, with one being more important than the other?  What does he seem to be the most interested in through his words?

Jesus summarizes the 10 commandments – and the 613 laws (or mitzvots) of the First Testament with two.  How does that resonate with you?  What is Jesus saying about in terms of the importance or value of our actions, thoughts and passions?  How does what we do or think matter in terms of the universe and the daily existence of others?  How is doing what Jesus asks us living in a way that makes us not far – or even in – the kingdom of God?

Textual Curiosities:
What’s curious about the encounter with the Sadducees (12:18-27) is that the Sadducees were different than the Pharisees in regards to death and the afterlife.  While the Pharisees (not present in this text) believed in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees didn’t.  So why then are they asking Jesus this question about whose wife the woman will be in heaven?

Jesus responds to this hypothetical marriage situation by quoting the story of how Moses first encounters God in the burning bush in Exodus 3.  Jesus answers the question posed by the Sadducces by telling them a story, reminding them of the identity of God – the first – or earliest – revelation of who God is in the First Testament.  That’s the way rabbinical conversation went.  Whoever answered with the reference in the Torah nearest the beginning was the most authoritative.  So what is Jesus saying by pointing back to the story of the Burning Bush?

The story of the Greatest Commandment Mark 12:28-34 is one of the best known regarding Jesus.  Commonly called the Golden Rule it points back to the 10 commandments, which are listed twice in the Bible: in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-22.  The summary of Jesus points to the Shema (which is the Hebrew word for “hear” – the first word in the text) in Deuteronomy 6:4-12.  This became the dominant Jewish confession of faith.  Jesus then combines it with the commandment of Leviticus 19:18 to show that love for neighbor is a natural and logical outgrowth of love for God.

What does it mean in verse 34 when Jesus says that the man is not far from the kingdom of God?  How is his response and reasoning different than that of the Sadducees in Mark 12:18-27?

Questions for wondering and exploring:
• What is Jesus saying to us and our church community today about how we profess and live out our faith?  How do you apply this teaching to us?

• How might we be more creative – intentional – or subversive in how we love our neighbor as an extension of how we first love God?  How do you seek to love your neighbor through your passion, intelligence, skills and time?  What difference does it make?  How have you (or haven’t you) experienced this service of others as a spiritual practice or an experience of the presence of God?  How would you like to?

• Is their a third way to following Jesus and his teachings in life that is between the rigid dogmatic stance of fundamentalism and the laxist hyper-reductive progressive desire to not offend or exclude anyone?  How does Jesus speak to this challenge of living our faith in Jesus in 21st century East Bay in his summary of the will of God through love and service?

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