The Periphery

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Mark 12:30 NKJV.

God values the priority of righteous lives above religious practices.

My thoughts and comments today are about “the periphery.”

Mrs. Cook, my fourth grade teacher at Blair Elementary in North Venice, Illinois, encouraged my love for words. Discovering my interest, she gave me a fascinating book exploring the etymology of words, “the origin and history of words.” I find “periphery” an interesting word. Periphery describes, something or someone on, “the outer edge, fringe, eccentric, or with minor involvement,” as contrasted with what is central and conventional.Be patient; I have a point to make, not just a word study.

In an exchange tonight with a friend about these thoughts, he observed that, “Many, if not most, of the people Jesus reached out to were living on the periphery of their culture. They were on the [fringes] of the political, social, or religious institutions of their time. But once they came in contact with Jesus their lives were radically changed and they began to develop a new understanding of what it means to be centered in God’s Kingdom.” I love this about Jesus; The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10 NIV.

Jesus still reaches out to those who feel lost or left out. The Good Shepherd seeks, finds, and rejoices over one lost sheep. See Matthew 12:14-18 NIV. However, I find my title today and its meaning distressing when used to describe people once centered in Christ but now content to practice their faith on the outer margins, with minor involvement spiritually or relationally. Jesus reaches out to those of you as well.

Quoting Moses’ words to Israel, Jesus prioritized the core value of the Kingdom of God, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment [in importance and priority].” Mark 12:30 NKJV. See Deuteronomy 6:5-7 NKJV. There are no acceptable substitutes for wholehearted allegiance to God. Even the best things can become pushed to the periphery while serving God, whereas loving God with singular devotion is absolutely central and never optional.

Obsessed with trivial, religious things, the Pharisees overlooked important matters of righteousness. They majored on minors, as do some today. With humor and hyperbole, Jesus described religious behavior as ludicrous by those, “[who] strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” Matthew 23:24 NKJV/NLT. Spiritual life suffers when occupied with incidental matters at the exclusion of more central issues of faith and obedience. Spiritual life cannot – must not – be reduced to externals, such as diet, dress, holy days, religious jargon or practices.

God values the priority of righteous lives above religious practices. Righteousness trumps religion every time. A bad habit privately held is no different than one publicly practiced. Jesus taught, “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts . . covetousness, wickedness, deceit . . pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Read Mark 7:18-23 NKJV. Hurts and slights by others are pushed to the periphery when living in the light of God’s grace and faithfulness. Move from the periphery to loving and serving God with all you are and have.

My prayer for you today is that you love and serve God fervently.