Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Jesus and the Junior Executive


And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And 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.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 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, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34 ESV)

“The US Code (i.e., the codified general statutes) with West's annotations is contained in 356 volumes and takes up 55 feet of shelf space, retailing for around $6,500.

The Code itself, from the USGPO, is in 35 volumes of around 1,200 to 1,400 pages each, including 6,850 pages of index in 6 volumes and one volume that is nothing but a 1,400-page LIST of the other public laws that have not been codified (e.g, the budget, etc).

Then there is the Code of Federal Regulations, for another $1,400 or more for a subscription, for another 20,000 pages.”
-- from Yahoo! Answers

The difference between a law and a commandment is that a law tells you how to act.  A commandment tells you how to live.   While I can’t verify this (because I’ve never read the US Code.  Has anyone?), my suspicion is there isn’t a single law in the US Code that tells us to love.  The reason, of course, is that you can’t have a relationship with a code.  You can only have a relationship with a living authority. 

I am using the word “authority” because part of the reason we have so many laws is that at the same time we have multiplied laws, we have concluded, as a culture, that there are no authorities beyond the individual. 

When the Scriptures were written everyone in the local culture understood and accepted that God was the authority.  That didn’t prevent any of them from disdaining him, or flagrantly disobeying his commands.  But at least the basis of authority was universal.  In Jesus’ discussions with scribes, Pharisees, and priests, the authority of God is never in question.  In fact, these leaders rightly asked Jesus on what basis he claimed the authority of God.

The answer for Jesus is in obedient love.  In Mark 12:28-34 Jesus reduces the need for a wall of laws to two simple commandments: Love God.  Love your neighbor.  The scribe Jesus was talking to not only understood these two commandments, and accepted the authority they originated with, but the man was willing to publicly put himself on the line because of it.  The discussion with the scribe does not happen in private, offline somewhere after hours.  Mark says, “One of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another.”  Beginning at Mark 12:13 first the Saducees and then the Pharisees come to Jesus.  This discussion happened in a very public forum among heavyweight leaders.  And for this little junior executive to speak up in this situation was as if an accountant walked into a meeting of the Federal Reserve Board and explained monetary policy to Ben Bernanke.   Which one of the Pharisees or Saducees do you suppose would give this guy his next job after that discussion?

When the little scribe speaks up and says, “You are right,” he’s also saying to all the authorities of Israel, “You are wrong.  Your huge legal code and all the interpretations of interpretations of laws you have piled up, if they don’t lead back to these two core commandments, aren’t worth a thing.”

The intimate answer Jesus gives the man erases everyone else from the scene.  For a moment the only two people in the room are Jesus and the scribe.  “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  You can almost feel that the next words out of Jesus’ mouth will be, “Come, take up your cross, and follow me.”

To love God and love your neighbor is to do those things to the exclusion of all else.  If you could do that perfectly, you’d be Jesus.  But what you and I can do is to “make love your aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1 RSV).   The extent to which we do this will be the extent to which we will be able to throw away book after book from the US Code, because we won’t need to read them.   Tim Keller says that wisdom is “knowing what to do in the 80% of life where the rules don’t apply.”   Doing God’s greatest commandments is the greatest wisdom of all.

Jon 

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