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Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”Mark 12:34
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I don’t know who first spoke these words, but we can clearly see that truth in action in our recent passages in Mark.
In those days, a number of distinct groups ruled Israel with authority. Throughout the New Testament, we read of the Pharisees, the Sadduces, the Sanhedrin, the Herodians, the scribes and the lawyers. Each of these groups held some sort of power, whether that be religious or political. And they were, for the most part, the enemies of one another, until Jesus arrived and threatened their positions. United in their hatred for Him, they partnered together against Him on several occasions.
The first time we hear of the Herodians is in Mark 3:6: “ Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” The Pharisees were the “piety police” in Judaism, who promoted oral tradition and loved all things ritual and ceremonial. Most scholars believe the Herodians were a political group within Judaism who supported the Roman king, Herod Antipas. Right there we can see tinder waiting for the strike of a match. The Pharisees seethed under Roman rule and wanted Jewish independence; the Herodians felt it politically beneficial to submit to Rome. But how easily they seemed to set their differences aside when it came to fighting Jesus.
In this chapter of Mark, we find three of these enemies quizzing Jesus on the Law. They weren’t asking Him questions for clarification, understanding or growth—they had crafted their questions in the hope that they could catch Him with words. How futile, when the Word Himself was standing before them.
First the Pharisees tried to corner Him about whether or not the Jews should pay taxes. But He thwarted their plan with wisdom.
Then the Sadducees—who prided themselves on their intelligence and who didn’t believe at all in the resurrection or the concept of life after life—asked Him an absurd question about marriage in heaven. But He corrected their wrong thinking and used that question as an opportunity to point out their ignorance of both God and His Word.
And finally, a scribe asked Him to emphasize one commandment over the others. But rather than ignore the rest of the commandments, He summed up the fullness of them in the commandment to love God with everything you have, and then to let that love spill over to others.
I don’t often feel tenderness toward the ruling authority of Israel. Nicodemus holds a special place in my heart, because he was a genuine seeker. And this scribe, too, softens me a bit because after asking his trick question, he admits that Jesus answered well, and then reasons that loving God and loving others is better than any sacrifice or offering you could make.
The next sentence is both hopeful and sad. “Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
It’s hopeful, because the scribe’s eyes had been opened to the truth. But it’s sad, because to be “not far” is to be “not in.”
How many times we meet people who are close, but not fully there. And while it’s better to be near than far, to be a seeker rather than a scoffer, “close” does not help you unless you step over the threshold.
Recently, a video of a newly married couple stranded in the Bahamas and watching their cruise ship leave without them went viral. You can see them frantically waving their arms and trying to get the ship to stop for them. But they missed it.
That video led me to another one which showed a mother down on her knees on that same dock a few years earlier, sobbing and screaming. She’d missed the departure time, and her two children were on the ship that was pulling away from port.
“Not far” won’t be helpful to anyone on the day when Jesus comes for His own. It will only mean a greater angst at the realization that you could have stepped over the threshold … but didn’t.