Choose Your Battles

Me in a (bad) fighting stance, facing a huge Hulk statue.

Mark 12:28-34

One of the teachers of the Law came and heard Jesus and the Sadducees debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked Him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus answered, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And from then on, no one dared ask Him any more questions.

There are 2 ways of looking at this one lone scribe who came across the debate:
1) Somebody who thinks he’s higher than Jesus and continues to push that view (to be associated with the others)
2) Somebody who neutralized the debaters’ attacks (somebody who stands out and should not be recognized as one of them whom Jesus warns people to avoid in verses 35-40).

First, the Sanhedrin saw Jesus as a phony and were out to prove it. But Jesus continued to counter their traps with Truth and wisdom. During the debate, a scribe walks by and hears Jesus’ good answers, so he jumps in and asks Jesus a question. Notice, we don’t know why he asked this question. There’s nothing revealing it to be an attempt to trap Him, or if he was genuinely curious of Jesus’ answer and stance. But after Jesus answered his question, the Scribe’s responses to Jesus are nothing short of arrogant: “Well said, You are right in saying that…” Notice that he also changed Jesus’ answer when he repeated it:

  • Jesus: Heart, soul, mind, strength (Deuteronomy 6:5 lists heart, soul, strength)
  • Scribe: Heart, understanding, strength  (understanding replaces soul and mind)

The Scribe also explained that loving your neighbor is more important to God than burnt offerings and sacrifices. So in this view, the scribe asked Jesus a question, then put himself above Jesus, recognizing Jesus as “uneducated”, yet knowledgeable, while still needing a few tweaks to His theology.

The other way of looking at this put the Scribe in a good light. For notice:

  • After Jesus answers him he acknowledges Jesus’ answer as correct (versus debating another point).
  • The Scribe also recognized and acknowledged Jesus as a Teacher in his response.
  • His repeating almost sounds as if he’s doing so to point out to the others the truth and correct stance of Jesus’.
  • When the Scribe explained the part after loving our neighbors, it almost sounds prophetic, as well as rebuking towards the others who were focusing more on tradition, sacrifices, and burnt offerings.
  • Just the fact that the exchanging of words between Jesus and this Scribe ended the debate makes me wonder if he was a respected man among the Sadducees.
  • I almost wonder if his question to Jesus was a means of basically showing the Sadducees that Jesus is on track with His theology, and that they need not debate pointless topics…sort of a means of neutralizing the situation without rebuking them straight out.
  • Verse 34 tells us that Jesus then saw that this Scribe had answered wisely, and responded saying that he’s not far from the Kingdom of God.
  • So unlike the others, this guy was on track with his theology.  And since his stepping in silenced the others as well as received a good response from Jesus, this view takes this scribe out of the category of Jesus’ rebuke of Scribes in verses 35-37.

To be honest, I wrestled with this one a little before writing down my notes. Why? Because I saw a little of myself in the Scribe who intervened. For, sometimes if I’m walking or scanning through a web-based discussion and come across somebody talking about God, I too will sometimes hang around and listen to their views some, and like the Scribe, not so much in the way to learn something, but more of as a means to investigate the correctness of their theology or answers…like a theology authority or something. Well, because it really makes me mad when I see somebody telling a crowd wrong things about Jesus for the sake of looking knowledgeable or whatever. Have you ever had that when you hear lies, and the truth burns in your heart so strongly that the only way to extinguish it is to let it out? And so I’d often do that. I’ll admit though, I have gotten better in learning to “choose my battles” and when to walk away, for sometimes, it’s best not to get involved. And that’s probably why this Scribe hung around some first to see how the conversation was going. And when he saw that the Sadducees were just arguing for the sake of arguing, he jumped in to see if he could neutralize the situation.

Choose your battles wisely.

1 Comment

  1. Mark 1:15–“‘The time promised by God has come at last!’ he announced. ‘The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!’” Yes, choose (or avoid) battles over “pointless topics” (Titus 3:9), and focus primarily on letting others know about the Good News/repentance, salvation and eternal life/the coming of the Kingdom of God, which is near (before it’s too late, so that others will actually be IN the Kingdom, not merely near it or close-but-not-quite to it).

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