Based on Mark 12:28-34
Elijah was a hero in Jesus’ day. He was held up as a Messianic forerunner from Malachi 3:1. He was also, more importantly, a hero for his outlandish defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel and for having slaughtered them afterwards (1 Kings 18:40).
What better story could an oppressed people tell than of an ancient hero who resisted paganization and threw off the yoke of their oppressors? It was the right story at the right time for Jews in Jesus day.
In his initial sermon Jesus plays on this passion for Elijah and himself tells an Elijah story. “There were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.”
Rather than a sword-wielding destroyer of men and other religions, we get the story of a God whose concern has no borders. Jesus clearly tells the wrong Elijah story, because his audience immediately moves to kill him! Having touched such a nerve, it was clearly the right story at the right time for Jesus to tell!
But why tell this story? And why tell it now?
In exploring the Bible that Jesus taught you can see more clearly his overall agenda or platform, what ancient Rabbi’s called his “yoke.” Jesus canon within the canon distinguishes him from all forms of institutional religiosity, whether focused on a text or a temple. In telling these stories and quoting this text, Jesus is blatantly choosing to not tell those stories or use that text.
The narratives he chooses to tell (such as Elijah above) are almost all boundary-busting stories that question our special status and xenophobia. His use of the prophets (whom he quotes more than anything!) are not the doom and gloom you might expect, but rather are a nuanced approach to what God does and does not require.
And in today’s text from Mark 12:28-34 we glimpse the core of it all for Jesus: love God with everything you’ve got (finances and energy included!) and love everyone you meet. If you boil all the law and prophets down that’s what you get. This is what he meant when he said, “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill the scriptures (Matt 5).”
Here’s what he’s not doing.
First, Jesus isn’t offering us a Bible Answer Book approach to scripture. He doesn’t give us a list of answers that solve our index of human problems. Depression, doubt, adultery…. all solved if you turn to this perfect proof text, chicken soup for the soul!
Nor does he conjure Hero’s of the faith that we are to emulate: David, Elijah, Moses, Miriam. No! Jesus often reminds us of how resistant God’s people were. He’d have no problem remembering that David was a murderer and rapist, or that Moses tried hard to weasel out of God’s call, or that Jeremiah was suicidal. Jesus had no desire to whitewash history in a failed attempt to prop up the status quo.
In fact, Jesus isn’t interested in teaching you how to live your life at all. At no point does he express interest in using the Bible to bless or baptize a life you’ve chosen for yourself, or in improving, fixing, and medicating the daily problems of modern life.
No! He’s not teaching you how to live your life. He’s teaching you how to live HIS life. “Come follow me,” he says! “Live my life in the world.”
Rather than these modern approaches to scripture, Jesus uses the Bible to tell you about the story he’s living in and to invite you to follow him. He’s creating and sustaining a community of radical obedience actually capable of living into the story of Jesus in the world.
It’s the story of a God who is creating a beautiful new world out of the midst of the old, where good news is shared with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and immigrant. It’s the story of how radical obedience busts borders to bless foreign widows and everyone we meet.
This story challenged the tiny box God’s people had put God into. Challenged it, and destroyed it! God is so much bigger than they – and we- every expected.
Jesus’ yoke is the gospel of God – the full intent and vision of God for our world. Having spelled out this story, Jesus turns to you and says, “Come to me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Will you accept Jesus story as your own? Or will you set up Elijah’s altar, and pray for fire from the heavens to rain down on our enemies?
You might appreciate this devotional guide: Reading the Bible Jesus Taught.