Text Study for Mark 12:28-36 (Pt. 3); October 31, 2021

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

How is the foremost commandment – to love God with one’s whole self – connected to the second-most commandment – to love one’s neighbor as oneself? In his book, Two Kinds of Love, Tuomo Mannermaa puts it this way.

“God’s Love helps human beings, first of all, to love God as God and not only the goodness received from God, and, second, to love other human beings for themselves and as persons, instead of loving only their precious qualities and for what could be gained from them for the benefit of the one who loves” (Kindle Locations 201-203).

Mannermaa suggests, in other words, that human love is connected to and even mirrors God’s love when we love “for nothing.” That is, God loves not for what God can gain but rather for what God can give. When human love functions in the same way, it is a product of God’s love.

Photo by Daria Liudnaya on Pexels.com

Mannermaa roots this discussion in the final thesis Martin Luther proposed for debate as part of the 1518 Heidelberg Disputation. That thesis reads, “God’s Love does not find, but creates, that which is lovable…to it. Human Love comes into being through that which is lovable to it ” (Kindle Location 133). God’s love is given to something or someone which can produce nothing in return or is, in fact, nothing in itself.

Human love, apart from God’s love, is always focused on that which can and does produce something in return. Human love on its own, at its best, is seeking the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. In simpler terms, human love on its own gives in order to get. Mannermaa argues that “human beings always seek their own, that is, their own good, in the objects of their love” (Kindle Locations 145-146).

Mannermaa is not being overly cynical about the nature of human love. Nor is he judging any particular instances of human loving. Instead, he is describing the nature of love possible for a creature on its own. This is how we are able to love apart from God’s love in us. It’s not bad in and of itself. It’s just not all there is. And it’s not the full love for which we were created.

This notion of loving “for nothing” or “for something” fits in with one of the overall directions of the Markan composition. Think back to the two times that Jesus puts a child in the midst of the disciples. Jesus tells us that unless we receive the Kin(g)dom of God like a child, we will not be able to enter into it. Remember that this is not about childlike innocence or any other romantic notion. This is about welcoming God among us “for nothing.”

We are called to welcome God among us “for nothing” because that is how God welcomes us. This is the Good News that Jesus proclaims, embodies, and enacts in his mission, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. Remember that Jesus comes as the Son of Man, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life. God does not come in Jesus to get. God comes in Jesus to give.

“God’s Love is not oriented toward ‘what is’ but rather toward ‘what is not,’” Mannermaa writes. “That is why God’s Love does not desire to gain something good from its object but rather pours out good and shares its own goodness with its object” (Kindle Locations 149-150). What God’s Love pours out is the presence of Christ in the hearts of those who trust in Christ, as we saw in the previous post.

Paul follows up his assertion in Romans 5:5 with a description of our condition when that “pouring in” takes place. Here we are – weak, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God – and Christ dies for the love of us. That love creates something where there was nothing. That’s what it means to be in bondage to sin – to be reduced to the nothingness of death. But that’s where God does God’s best work.

It’s for that reason, backing up a bit further in Romans, that Paul uses Abraham and Sarah as an illustration. Abraham was, Paul says, as good as dead. Sarah was barren –her womb was empty. Out of that nothingness, God creates new life. Out of that death, God brings resurrection. Trust in Jesus is trust in precisely that God, who handed him over to death for our trespasses and raised him for our justification.

“God’s creating love is especially manifest,” Mannermaa argues, “when God-and and those human beings in whom God’s Love dwells-loves the sinners who are wicked, foolish, and weak, in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong” (Kindle Locations 154-155). Mannermaa reminds us of a great Luther quote at this point. “Therefore sinners are beautiful because they are loved; they are not loved because they are beautiful.”

Thus, God loves us “for nothing.” That’s the nature and definition of God’s grace. “Because God’s Love does not find but creates that which is lovable to it, it is not determined by the attributes of its object,” Mannermaa notes. “It does not choose its object on the basis of these attributes, nor does it depend on human opinions, according to which the object of love always should be something” (Kindle Locations 157-158).

God loves us “for nothing,” and creates in us the capacity to love God “for nothing” in return. That’s a sort of operational definition of faith. We Christians would say that this capacity comes to us as Christ lives in us and through us. When our love for the neighbor is “for nothing,” that is, for the sake of the neighbor rather than for our own benefit or advantage, then our neighbor love is a reflection of and response to our love for God.

Mannermaa notes that Lutheran theology, and especially analyses of Luther’s theology, tend to downplay, or even ignore Luther’s thinking on God’s love and human love. But this thinking is critical to understanding Luther’s work and the Markan composition at this point. It’s not that we can use human love to help us understand God’s love. It is, rather, that God’s love is the standard by which all human love should be judged.

“God loves human beings by giving them Godself fully, that is, by giving them God’s full ‘nature’ with all of God’s characteristics.…” (Kindle Location 398-399). This is the “joyous exchange” I mentioned in the previous post. God’s love is always more than a feeling. It is the gift of God’s very self, given to us in the living and transforming presence of Christ within us.

“Faith receives the good deed of Christ,” Mannermaa continues. Notice that we are back to what it means to receive or welcome the Kingdom of God. Faith receives God’s love in Christ poured into our hearts by the Spirit. And we receive that love, trusting that we are loved “for nothing” and not “for something.”

I know far too many people who are certain that they can only be loved “for something.” They are convinced that they have to produce, to provide, to be used and exploited in order to receive anything that looks or feels like “love.” Most of us live this way most of the time. My chaplaincy supervisor said that most of us believe that “bad breath is better than no breath at all.” We settle for being loved “for something” rather than risk not being loved at all.

The joy of the Gospel is the realization that God loves me “for nothing,” that is, for me just as I am – not for what I can produce or provide, not for my perfection or pretense. I only get brief glimpses of that Good News in my heart now and then. But when I do, it is, to quote Luther, as if the gates of Paradise have opened wide.

The second-most commandment, then, comes out of the foremost – but applied to our neighbor. “This means, to do for their neighbors as Christ has done first for them,” Mannermaa argues, “to give the good gifts they have received to their neighbors in need, and to relate to the neighbors’ sins, weaknesses, and needs as if these were their own. In this way,” he concludes, “Christ, Christians, and their neighbors form one body in God and God’s love” (Kindle Locations 400-402).

Reflect on those moments in relationships when you have felt most loved. I suspect those are moments when you experienced love that was for you as you were, not as you were expected to be. When we have someone in our lives who loves us that way, it is the greatest of all gifts. That’s the sort of love that changes people, makes people better, makes people closer to what God has created us to be. That sort of love is a means of God’s love for us.

Is it any wonder that when the scribe affirms Jesus’ words here, Jesus says that he is “not far” from the Kin(g)dom of God? The scribe doesn’t stick around, however, for the way this works out in reality. After all, self-giving love – loving “for nothing” – is always suffering love. This love is always on the way to the cross and resurrection.

“Because of the nature of God’s love,” Mannermaa writes, “all God’s action in the world has the form and shape of the cross” (Kindle Location 489). Therefore, if our love is to be “like” that love, our action in the world will also have the form and shape of the cross. Again we come to Luther’s formulation of the Golden Rule – “Do to your neighbor what Christ has done to you.”

“These are the true Christian works,” Luther says in a sermon, “that the Christian falls and plunges into the mud where the sinner is, and is immersed in it as deeply as the sinner is; and that the Christian takes the sinner’s sins upon oneself, and rises up again with the sinner, acting as if those sins were one’s own.”

That’s what Love’s got to do with it.

References and Resources

Freeman, Tzvi. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1438516/jewish/Mitzvah.htm.

Hurtado, Larry. Mark (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series). Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 1989.

Tuomo Mannermaa; Kirsi Irmeli Stjerna. Christ Present In Faith: Luther’s View Of Justification. Kindle Edition.

Tuomo Mannermaa. Two Kinds of Love: Martin Luther’s Religious World (Kindle Locations 201-203). Kindle Edition.

Powery, Emerson. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-31-2/commentary-on-mark-1228-34-4.

Wilson, Sarah Hinlicky. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-31-2/commentary-on-mark-1228-34-5.

Wright, N. T. Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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