A teacher of religious law once came to Jesus and asked Him what was the most important of all the commandments. Jesus replied that it was to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. The man agreed and went on to say that this was more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law. “Realizing the man’s understanding, Jesus said to him, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’” (Mark 12:33).
At first this sounds like a compliment, but I wonder. I wonder how far away he really was. Was he real close, like two more steps and he could see the Grand Canyon, or like he was two more wins away from winning the World Series?
Just how close was he? And what good does it do you to be “not far from the Kingdom of God” if you never actually get in? We don’t know any more about this conversation than what we know here; we can only speculate. How many good people are there in the world who nevertheless aren’t good enough to get into the kingdom of God? Good people. Hard working, respectable people. People better than you or me.
Well then, what does it take to get into the kingdom of God then? It takes going from where this man is now — from being not far from the kingdom — to being down on his luck and down on his knees crying out for God to have mercy on him, a sinner. Who cares how close he might have been, it takes knowing he doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the kingdom of God to have the understanding of what it takes to be invited in. It includes knowing he is the worst of the worst. That’s what it takes.
Not far from the kingdom of God? Was this a case of being so near, but so far away?