O Lord, our God, victim of violence on a cross,
look with compassion upon all involved in shootings this week
in America and around the world.
Receive into the arms of you love those who have died.
Comfort those traumatized by these horrendous events.
Wrap your Everlasting Arms around those who mourn.
Heal those whose hearts and minds are terrorized.
Strengthen those medical personnel who minister to the wounded.
Protect the law enforcement officials to risk their lives for our safety.
Calm all whose memories of violence are triggered by this shooting.
Bring the gunmen to repentance and redemption,
and deal tenderly with his confused family and friends.
Hear our cries of lament as we seek to understand the incomprehensible,
and deliver us from the evil of violence in any form.
Through Christ we pray. Amen.
From the United Methodist Church: Litany on the Tragedy of Gun Violence
28One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: "Which is most important of all the commandments?"
29Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; 30so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' 31And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these."
32The religion scholar said, "A wonderful answer, Teacher! So clear-cut and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. 33And loving God with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that's better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!"
34When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, "You're almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom."
After that, no one else dared ask a question.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
Today's Reading from Mark
One more time I'm blogging the focus passage from Mark in the booklet we're using at church to guide our Lenten reading of Mark's gospel. In Mark, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is relentless; every year on the Sixth Sunday in Lent we re-enact his entrance into the city riding on a donkey and surrounded by excited onlookers waving leafy (palm?) branches. Today's reading is Jesus' last discussion or dialogue with questioners before his trial and execution. His declaration about love of God, self, and neighbor being the greatest commandment and the path to life satisfies him and silences everyone else.
In Three of the Four Gospels…
…so take notice!
Synoptic gospels Mark, Matthew, and Luke that view Jesus' ministry in similar ways all record Jesus' reply to this question from the scribe or religious scholar. Matthew and Luke call him a "lawyer."
34When the Pharisees heard how Jesus had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36"Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?"
37Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' 38This is the most important, the first on any list. 39But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them.'"
25Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"
26Jesus answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
27He [the guy who asked Jesus] said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
28"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you’ll live."
The Ten Words
Three weeks ago for the Third Sunday in Lent we discussed the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant that God gave the people after they'd been freed from slavery in Egypt, while they still were on the way to the Promised Land. Following the Ten Words (sometimes literally translated into Decalogue) brings heaven to earth, creating God's love, mercy, and righteousness within the community and radiating outward into the rest of the world. Heaven comes to earth in the Ten Words; heaven touches earth in Jesus Christ, God's incarnate Word. The commandments and Jesus recognize all life as sacred. In these three Great Commandment scriptures, Jesus (in Mark and Matthew) and his hyper-religious interlocutor (in Luke) summarize the Ten Words by quoting "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One" from Deuteronomy 6:4 along with "…you shall love your neighbor as yourself" from Leviticus 19:18.
The evangelists who wrote the four canonical gospels recorded some history of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension; they also presented carefully crafted theology. Mark places today's conversation with the legal eagle-religion expert as the last in a series of give and take exchanges between Jesus and The Authorities. As a rabbi-teacher, Jesus constantly engaged others in conversation; many would have had similar content. As an itinerant preacher, Jesus undoubtedly developed some outstanding homilies he'd tweak or contextualize so they'd relate to his current listeners. As a famous example, we have Matthew's Sermon on the Mountain and Luke's Sermon on the Plain that are parallel yet with distinct differences because he addressed different audiences. The events of the week before Easter that we call "Holy" occupy a large portion of Mark's gospel with its focus on Jesus' identity and purpose. Today's scripture portion ends with, "After that, no one else dared ask a question." In real life was that Jesus' final engagement with religious or political powers that be? It's impossible to know. But Mark the evangelist places it there to demonstrate Jesus' overarching authority.
Doing the Word
Then God spoke all these words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; [therefore] you shall have no other gods before me." … Exodus 20:1-3
• Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do." Exodus 24:3
• But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may do it. Deuteronomy 30:14
Much later, the Apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy:
• But what does scripture say? "The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart," that is, the word of faith that we proclaim. Romans 10:8
In these passages, the Hebrew Dabar is the Word that created heaven and earth. "Dabar" is speech and action in one. Speaking Dabar and its cognates generates life, creates a new reality. The commandments' covenant of love acknowledges all life as sacred; acting in love makes life together possible. Doing these words creates life and holds us together as families, churches, and communities. Not doing the words negates life, leads to discord, violence, and death.
Martin Luther begins his Small Catechism – traditional preparation for First Holy Communion – with the Ten Words or Commandments. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us, "It is the God of the Commandments with whom we commune."
The Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," isn't explicitly in the bible, but it can be an excellent guideline, particularly once we know a individual's or a group's history, preferences, and needs.
• The way we know we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters. Anyone who doesn't love is as good as dead. 1 John 3:14
• Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Revelation 22:14
End of Lent Questions
How has your Lent been? Did you follow any particular devotional practices? Did you participate in any service activities, or find helpful ways to mitigate yours and a few neighbors' COVID loneliness and stir-craziness?
Besides the end of COVID, worldwide vaccinations, and a revitalized economy, what are your hopes for the Great Fifty Days of Easter?