Right now it feels that every time I turn on the news or receive a text message there is a crisis, tragedy or terrible need. I instantly mutter, "How long, Lord?" or "When is it enough, Lord?" I think no matter what our sensibilities, we have a sense that it's not supposed to be like this and we long for something better. We all long for peace.
The people of Jesus' day longed for heaven and thought the Ten Commandments were the quickest way to achieve heaven. But then they sought out which commandment was the most important. As if to say, "If I can't get all ten right but I get one right, which one should I try harder to do?" Aren't we like this? We chuckle at their legalism and scoff at them for trying to check boxes - because somehow we know you can't check a box to get near God but we are all guilty of the same thinking and behaviors.
Upon being asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus says, "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, Emphasis mine)
A scribe hears this teaching, repeats it back to show understanding. The scribe also surmises that loving our neighbor is even more important to God than the burnt offerings and sacrifices. This pleased Jesus! This guy gets it and Jesus rewards Him (and us) by promising that when we love God and our neighbor, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12:34)
Not far? I want to be not far! When we go on a long road trip, don't the kids say "How much further?" or "Are we there yet?" I even begin to sit up taller and more expectantly when I know we're just a few miles from the destination. My countenance changes because I know soon I'll get out of the car, get to stretch my legs and get a bite to eat. There's relief in knowing you're "not far".
Or how about doing a grueling job or work out? Isn't it nice to know when you are not that far from finishing? When the end is in sight, I get a burst of energy and I even work a little harder. I'll run a little faster and with confidence because I know the finish line is nearby. At about mile 10 of my half marathon, people were standing on the side of the road yelling out, "You're not that far!"..."Keep going, you've got this!" - and I would try to smile even though it was painful and excruciating.
The news headlines are painful and excruciating. The texts and voicemails from a friend in crisis prompt that feeling of despair. Difficulties in marriage, relationships, finances and health cause us to breathe heavy sighs and weak prayers of "how much further?" Jesus offers a great hope and encouragement. When we love our Father in Heaven and love His children - our neighbors - we are not far from His kingdom. The kingdom of pure love, peace and forgiveness. We do not need to check boxes, we are simply required to love. To express love on earth so that we might step closer to heaven or perhaps heaven gets a little closer with every loving gesture.