Monday 26 March

Mark 11:27 to 12:44

This is a very long reading, so we’ll make it a (relatively) short devotion.

After a series of intellectual skirmishes, where various priests and teachers try to trick Jesus into saying something which they could use to condemn him, we finally meet a teacher of the law who takes Jesus seriously.  Having listened to the debates swirling around Jesus, he asks a typically Jewish question: There are many commandments; which one is the most important?

Some Christians assume that Jesus makes up a new summary of the law here, and that this is a brand new revelation, where New Testament Love trumps Old Testament Law. Of course, he does nothing of the kind. Jesus replies by quoting two Old Testament passages. The first is from Deut. 6:4-5, and the second is from Lev. 19:18. Love is at the heart of the Old Testament, just as much as the New. Jesus didn’t come to change the law, but to fulfil it. Perhaps also, to enable it, but that’s another story.

It is interesting though, that after all these heady intellectual exchanges, which Jesus consistently wins, he does give his own slightly different version of the Deuteronomy law. In the Greek translation of this Old Testament law, the Israelites are told to love the Lord their God with all their hearts (kardia), their souls (psyche), and their strength (dunamis).

Here, in Mark and in Matthew, Jesus adds another way of loving. He tells this teacher that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart (kardia), all our soul (psyche) and all our mind (dianoia) and all our strength (ischus). Dianoia is a Greek word, (ratio in Latin, from which we get rational) used often by Plato to refer to rational, deductive thinking, the kind of thinking that is used in mathematics, science and technology.

Jesus has just added a new dimension for loving. We are to love with our minds, as well as our hearts, souls and personal strength or power.

We have read how Jesus has spent hours in the temple debating with teachers of the Law, who had marvellously intelligent minds – but they were not using those minds to love God.

In 1994, Mark Noll published a book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. The first sentence read: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Noll commended the contemporary church for its generosity, its zeal for spreading the Gospel and for various other virtues, but bewailed the fact that modern Christians are not renowned for their thinking skills.

Yet it was this command of Jesus that encouraged Christianity across Europe to engage in rational thought. It enabled the huge expansion of scientific thought that drove Western civilisation. The notion that Christianity was an impediment to scientific learning in the Enlightenment is a profound lie spread by those with an axe to grind against the Christian faith.

I was privileged to be present as Professor Peter Harrison, in his inaugural lecture as Oxford Professor of the History of Science and Religion said: “…while there may have been scientific ideas and practices without religion, there would not have been a longstanding and evolving scientific culture  of the kind that emerged in the West without the support of [Christian] religion.”[1]

Jesus commanded us to love. That is certain. Our pulpits and our Christian culture remind us often, and properly so, to practise love.

But he also commanded us to love with all of our mind. To be engaged with complex studies and learning. To stretch ourselves intellectually. Are we sufficiently obedient to this Master who engaged with the finest minds of his day, and conquered them with fine argument? Or have we allowed our church and faith to be second-rate intellectual fare?

This is no longer a minor matter, now that we have read Mark, and understood him. Perhaps we should not have started on this road to Jerusalem if we did not want to be changed.

There is no longer a space for the pious Christian to say, “Oh, I don’t bother with all that intellectual stuff. I’m a simple Christian. I just try to love God and love others.”

There is no excuse for a young Christian person to abandon university studies, because they are waiting for God to show them what he wants them to do. We are commanded to love by being the best lawyers, doctors, hairdressers, politicians, electricians, business people, engineers, carers and housekeepers that we can be.

We all have a responsibility to learn and to think, to the best of our differing abilities, (even those with limited ability!), and to make sure that our children are educated as well as they can possibly be. This is the command of the Lord. In fact, it is part of his greatest commandment.

[1] Peter Harrison, “Religion, the Royal Society, and the Rise of Science,” Theology and Science 6, no. 3 (2008): 269.

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