Family reunions were a big deal when I was a kid. I loved them. I once counted about 100 kinfolk in a 20-minute radius. We would gather at the end of every summer at my mother’s family “old homeplace.” It was there that my great aunts enjoyed rock-star accolades. They could cook! Each one made her own special dish or dessert. Green beans. Casseroles. Tomatoes and macaroni. Cornbread. Mississippi Mud. 8-layer dried apple fruitcakes. Unique stuff made from everyday ingredients. It was a feast.
The games were also amazing. The cousins would run over the farmland. We’d play baseball or fish. If I was really lucky though, my great uncles would let me join them for a game of washers. One would step off about 10 paces then another would dig a hole about 4 inches in diameter at each end. Two men to a team. 5 points if you sank the washer in the hole. 2 points for being nearest to the hole. It’s a game where “close enough” is not only encouraged but counts.
The gospel of Mark is my favorite gospel to study. I particularly enjoy the way he lays out the conversations between Jesus and the people He encounters. It’s not difficult determining the ones who approach Him condescendingly and cynical from the ones who are genuine and seeking to understand. In Mark 12, we see a little of both. On one hand the Sadducees, a religious sect that didn’t believe in the resurrection, asked Him a bizarre question about married life in heaven to try and trap Him in an answer that would make the resurrection seem ridiculous. His answer transcends the trap. I love it when He says in verse 24: “Your mistake is that you don’t know the scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” I mean, Wow! What a reply! We could say that these guys are far away from getting it--no understanding of how the kingdom of God works. Far from it.
Immediately following this conversation, however, Jesus encounters a man who would stake his life and reputation on his understanding of the scriptures. It seems that he approaches our Savior with an understanding of God’s law and a desire to major on what Jesus would say is most necessary to please God. The answer is love--an active love that goes beyond empty ceremonial allegiance. He gets that much. He’s getting close.
Like that scribe, I find myself understanding those commands. I can articulate the difference between empty religion and a love for God and others. I even feel good about knowing the difference and quoting the command. Not far from the kingdom of God, but close enough? Did this guy walk away from the conversation and begin to see what I must acknowledge after all these years knowing the difference? Because, honestly, do we ever love God the way He commands? Do we love our neighbors as ourselves?
I’m convinced that Jesus gives this response, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God" because it addresses the dilemma we are in, but are at times too proud to see. Our success in keeping these commands depends upon His power and His love moving in and through us. We can only love God and others, the way He commands anyway, by His own life and love moving through us.
The law of God -- these great commandments -- point both the scribe and us to our need for a Savior. It was this man’s nearness to Jesus, not personal goodness alone, that made him near the kingdom. Jesus stands before him, and us as well, for the same purpose. We can either walk away and really believe we can do this on our own, or we can believe that getting close is good enough, or we can linger with the Savior a bit longer and see our desperate need for Him!
To say that we are not far from the kingdom is to compel us to ask Him for a bridge to span the remaining distance, as well as a constant guide to lead us over. The best you can do is get close, maybe. But even so, it is not near enough. We aren’t talking washers and horseshoes here, but Jesus does have a grand family that we are welcome to enter. Draw near to Him.