"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.'" – Vs 29-31
In this chapter we see Jesus in a number of discussions with the religious leaders of His day. It starts our with Jesus' stinging indictment on the people of Israel – faintly veiled in the form of a parable. But we know they got the message because verse 12 says, "they understood that He spoke the parable against them." So they went away only to return with a plan to trap Him through the use of a series of questions, each designed to expose Jesus as a fraud. One had to do with the unfair taxation of the Romans. Another had to do with the resurrection. A third had to do with which commandment was the greatest or most important. Each time they were trying to put Jesus in a predicament where any answer He gave would get Him in trouble. Jesus handles all their attempts at entrapment with ease, frustrating their plans and feeding their growing contempt for Him.
But the one exchange that stands out from them all is found in verses 28-34. Jesus has already been confronted by the Pharisees, the Herodians, and some Sadducees. Each group had their own "trick" questionfor Jesus answer. Now along comes a scribe. He is a member of a well-respected occupation, whose job it was to copy the law. But he was more than a mere copyist. By constant and careful copying of the Old Testament laws, he would have become an expert. In the New Testament period the scribes were learned teachers and authoritative leaders, who were drawn from the priests and Levites, as well as the common people. Mark portrays them as high officials, advisors to the chief priests, and teachers of the Law. They were well-educated and well-informed in matters of the law.
So this guy comes up to Jesus and asks Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" It is impossible to know the intent behind this man's question. We assume he was trying to trick Jesus just like the others. But something leads me to believe he was looking for a legitimate answer to his question. Verse 28 says that he recognized that Jesus had answered the other questions well. So it seems that, as an expert on the law, he was anxious to see if Jesus could answer a question that had probably haunted him for all his professional life. Jesus' answer does not surprise him, because Jesus quotes directly from the Old Testament. Surprisingly, the scribe actually agrees with Jesus when he says, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated…" (Vs 32). But there is something in the man's statement that is worthy of closer inspection. He requotes the very same passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, but makes an important addition.
The scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." – Vs 32-33
Do you see it? This expert on the law states that loving God and loving others is more important to God than an abundance of burnt offerings and sacrifices. Basically, he is saying that the intentions of the heart are more important than efforts of the flesh. Anyone can offer sacrifices and burnt offerings and be going through the motions. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus said this of the Pharisees, ""These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Love comes from the heart. Love for God and love for others is impossible without something happening in the heart. You can't fake love God or others. But you can certainly DO all the right things that make it appear as if you love God and others. So we tend to concentrate on the outside, focusing of acts of sacrifice that are the result of self-effort more than they are a natural outflow of legitimate love for God and others.
So how's your love life?
Sounds kind of personal doesn't it? But love is personal. It's intimate. And it has to come from the heart for it to be real. But some of us have a hard time loving ourselves, let alone others. We have a hard time believing that God loves us, so we find it hard to love Him in return. We withhold love from others until they show love to us. But fortunately for us, God doesn't love that way. He just loves. And according to Jesus, the two greatest commandments He gave us are to love Him back, and to share His love with others. This journey we call the Christian life is not about rules, rituals, and religious creeds. It isn't about accomplishing things for God with our hands. It is about the heart. It is about love. It is about relationship. It is about loving because He has loved us. But it's hard to love others when you don't feel loved. It's impossible to love others when you can't even love yourself. But God does love you. He sent His Son to die for you. Not because you were lovely or lovable, but because love is the essence of God. And His undeserved, unmerited love for us is what motivates and empowers us to love Him in return and all those He brings into our lives.
We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. – 1 John 4:19-21
It is interesting that after this exchange with the scribe, Mark records, "After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions" (Vs 34). Why do you think that is? I think Jesus had just nailed down the real issue going on with the religious leaders. It was their hearts. They didn't truly love God and they didn't love others. They had missed the point altogether and had made their lives nothing more than a list of religious rules and rituals to keep. But how easily we can fall prey to the same kind of mentality. But God calls us to a life of love.
Father, forgive me for not loving more. I confess that I often find it easier to offer you my sacrifice of self-effort and offerings of self-righteousness when all you are asking for is love. Love for You and love for my neighbor. May these two commandments truly become the greatest in my life. May I learn to be loved and love. May I extend to others the kind of love You have given to me. Sacrificially and selflessly. Amen