It’s Tuesday of Holy Week. In Mark’s gospel (11.20-13.27) we find Jesus heading into the deep waters of confronting the socio-religious and political powers of Jerusalem. A series of interactions with Pharisees, scribes, and some wealthy Sadducees puts Jesus on the defensive. But he, according to gospel accounts, aptly volleys the threats back into the courts of his opponents and scores several points—all the more reason to kill him!
In one Jesus is questioned about paying taxes, to which he skillfully responds: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Later he is questioned on his knowledge of Torah (often translated “law,” but more appropriately interpreted as “teachings” or “instructions”). Which is the greatest teaching? Jesus appropriately responds: Love the Lord your God with your whole being—heart, soul, mind, and strength. But then he adds that there is a second part to this: Love your neighbor as you yourself. Borg and Crossan, in The Last Week, suggest that loving God means giving to God what belongs to God—everything: our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In other words, these do not belong to the powers or authorities here on earth, but solely to God. So, loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is to “refuse to accept the divisions rendered by the normalcy of civilization” (e.g., the respected over and against the marginalized; rich over and against the poor; friends over and against enemies; righteous over and against sinners; insiders over and against outsiders).1
Here we find Jesus, once again, bringing his point home about the radical and often difficult to accept inclusivity of the God of love. In Mark’s gospel at least, one of the scribes (experts in Torah) gets it: “You are right, teacher!” Here this on scribe affirms what the Jewish leadership and elite, let alone Jesus’ own disciples, cannot: our way of life—our behavior, our daily choices, how we treat one another as well as ourselves—matters to God much more than our religiosity as a sign of our living in the kingdom of God here and now.
In this climate of political elections, deepening philosophical divide, and global clash of cultures, as followers of the Way of Jesus how might these texts inform our Christian responses? Do we join the fray? Or do we try to speak the wisdom of God’s love into a divided and hurting world, even at the risk of our own peril?
1. Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last WeeK: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2006), 70-71.