"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Does It Take to Get Into the Kingdom?

Today's Gospel reading begs the afore mentioned question. From the twelfth chapter of Mark's Gospel comes the account of a lawyer who asked of the Lord a question about which commandment in the law was greatest. We all know the answer was "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength. And love thy neighbor as thyself." The lawyer then affirms with his own mouth that Jesus had rightly answered his question. (Kind of makes you wonder why he bothered asking...) Than Jesus says the following: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." I have to believe this man asked why he didn't make the cut-but Mark doesn't record anymore of the conversation.

A couple of thoughts come to mind when reading this verse. First, while ultimately you are either inside the Kingdom or you are not, there are some who are genuiely closer to entering. Their hearts are likely in the right place, though they are just short of something which they need. I wonder if this what Christ would say to those faithful followers of other monotheistic religions-particularly, Judaism and Islam.

The second thought has to do with what is lacking. What did this scribe need? I think the answer is probably fairly simple. It is not enough to know the will and plan of God. It must be done. We can know all the truth in the world, have an enlightened understanding of who God is and what he has done for humanity, and still not respond to this reality. The grace of the Lord is necessary to prepare us and turn our wills in such a way that we seek to not only hear Christ's words, but do them. As St. James charged us, "be not hearers of the word only, but doers." Did this lawyer wholly lack grace? There is no way of telling. I'd be inclined to say that Christ had already begun working in his heart if he possessed the knowledge of the greatest law. But more grace was needed in order for him to live out this great commandment.

How does one attain this grace? It's a tricky question, since grace by defintion is something given, not earned. However, the Scriptures do point out that the recipient of grace clothes himself in humility.

"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (I Pet. 5:5)

Applying this passage to the Gospel for today, I believe we can piece together the answer to the question "What does it take to get into the Kingdom?" A realization that we are unable to fully keep the Great Commandment must be first. Humbly recognizing this prepares our hearts to receive grace. Once this grace is received and Christ himself makes his home within us, the commandments, while still difficult to keep, are quite possible. For, as St. Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ who strenthens me." (Phil. 4:13) This man seems to come to Jesus with a know-it-all mentality, as noted before. His pride was blocking out the grace necessary to keep the law he knew and probably loved. Our place in the Kingdom is dependant on grace. We do well to remember that it is a danger to participate in any kind of sin that separates us from God's grace.

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