“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” That, to be honest, has to be an extremely reassuring comment. To know that you’re on the right track, that your thoughts and heart’s desires are in line with God’s will, that would be a wonderful thing to know. And today’s Scriptures give us the roadmap for finding that reassurance.
Step one is repentance. The prophet Hosea wrote of Israel’s repentance. Israel, as a nation, as we well know, had turned away from the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They had turned to the false gods of their neighbors and had worshipped idols. Hosea’s prophecy had been all about calling them back, urging them to return to the Lord who loved his people and yearned for them like a spurned lover. In today’s first reading, Hosea prophecies the promise that God will accept back his wayward lover and will restore the people of Israel to his own loved possession.
Step two is to hear the voice of God. “If only my people would hear me,” the Psalmist says, “and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.” God longs to fill his faithful people with everything that they need to sustain life and live their faith. All they have to do is hear his voice, to follow his commands, and walk in his ways. This hearing the voice of God requires a steadfast faithfulness that will not be enticed by strange gods or flashy idols. There is a single-mindedness that is called for here: the faithful are called not to hear God as one voice among many, but to hear God alone.
And step three is love. In today’s Gospel, Jesus famously boils the commandments down to two: love of God and love of neighbor. Again, there is an underlying single-mindedness: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Love of God and neighbor isn’t a third or fourth priority, if you ever get around to it. Love is prime: love is the first inclination of the heart, thought of the mind, and action of life.
What does it take for us disciples to be not far from the Kingdom of God? It takes a Lent of repentance, a desire to hear and meditate on God’s Word and his presence in our lives, and then to love like there was nothing else to do in the whole world. Maybe we’re not there yet, all of us, as we approach our Easter joy. But at this mid-point of Lent, maybe we can come a little closer by asking God for the desire to change our hearts.