The Jesus subtext
Have you ever had a conversation in which the primary communication was not the words spoken? Maybe an exchange with an old friend where you say very little to express your relationship? Maybe a conversation with a rival in which looks and posturing were really what was “said”?
The brief exchange Jesus has with the scribe in Mark 12 is similar. The scribes ask Jesus what the greatest commandment is and Jesus responds:
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.” Mark 12:29-31 (ESV).
His answer connects to the central prayer faithful Jews prayed every day; it is called the Shema. But the words unspoken say a lot as well.
At least in Mark, the scribes are portrayed as Jesus’ nemesis. They are constantly harping on his behavior and ultimately are instrumental in causing his death. And yet in this exchange, the scribe actually agrees with Jesus by saying: “You are right, Teacher…” (v.32).
The conversation surprisingly takes a sharp turn away from the usual antagonistic tone. He agrees with Jesus quickly—where the subtext in most of their conversations is challenging, suddenly there is agreement. Jesus’ reaction to this agreement is no less surprising:
And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (v.34).
The Lord knows just when to stop everything and watch the kingdom leaking through, even through a scribe. This conversation stands out against other similar exchanges because there is pause, there is observation, not just a disagreement or debate.
Jesus sees the change coming through this man and proves that the kingdom welcomes everyone as a matter of the heart. Unlike Israel—who at the time was shutting non-Jews (Gentiles) out—the gospel movement welcomed all—scribes or otherwise—if that person turned even slightly toward Jesus. It was a matter of faith—not social class, not ethnicity nor heritage, that brought someone to believe and follow Christ.
So this exchange—a surprisingly positive response from a scribe excites Jesus. It’s small moments like these showing how Jesus was transforming the world then and still is today.
I’d like to think this scribe who was “not far” from the kingdom made it all the way across. Perhaps this was the beginning of his journey—a brief, patient discussion with Jesus. The same discussion he has had with you.
Presented by Greg Williams
About the presenter:
Greg Williams is President of Grace Communion International and lives in North Carolina, USA. Word of Life each Sunday is taken from ‘Speaking of Life’, (https://www.gci.org/videos/media-speaking-of-life/), a public resource video on the USA website of Grace Communion International.
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