Shortly after giving telling the Parable of the Noble Vineyard Owner and His Son Jesus is again answering the questions of Jerusalem’s religious leaders. Mark 12:28-34 is a passage that is usually called “The Greatest Commandment”.
One of those religious leaders (who would of course be quite upset/angry about Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple the day before) asked Jesus,
“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Why did the lawyer ask this question to Jesus? Rephrased, his question is “What overriding principle encapsulates all of God’s instruction?” The goal of answering this question was not to summarize the Bible in one’s own words, but to choose one key verse that distilled all the rest, focusing its light down to a single brilliant point.
This was not a new discussion. Rabbis have debated this for centuries. What was Jesus’ opinion?
“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 Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) is all about how to worship God, because if we’re all made in God’s image we find our true selves through learning to love and worship the one we were designed to reflect. So heart, mind, and strength — every part of us — are to be completely consumed with worshipping God. Everything we do, we are to do for Him. Imagine if we lived like that every day. God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. That’s Jesus’ point. Through the work of Jesus this worship and work, constantly reflecting God to the world by our lives, is now possible.
Jesus doesn’t stop there. The religious leader didn’t ask him for the second most important commandment, but Jesus shares it anyway.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Pay close attention to exactly what Jesus said. You aren’t to love your neighbor instead of yourself or less than yourself. You are to love them as yourself. In Luke 10 Jesus follows continues his response to the religious leader with the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate exactly what this love is to look like. Again, if we lived like this many of the worlds problems would be solved instantly. And once more, it Jesus is implying that his work makes this commandment possible for us to follow. He believes God is fulfilling His promise to renew the hearts of His people. The apostle Paul spends most of his epistles talking about this belief.
Where do these two commandments come from? Jesus didn’t make them up. The first comes from the central Jewish prayer, called the Shema, a Hebrew word which means ‘hear’ or ‘listen’. It’s found in Deuteronomy 6. The second is from Leviticus 19:18.
Jesus is claiming that through his work and teaching which will be fulfilled in Jerusalem in just a few days, the central prayer and hope of Judaism is being fulfilled. He isn’t designing a new religion called Christianity. He’s saying that He’s the fulfillment of what devout Jews and their Hebrew ancestors have always hoped for. He’s the descendant promised by God to Abraham who will bless the whole world!
What are the implications of this answer? The religious leader who is questioning Jesus lays out the most significant one in his mind.
“To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
He’s probably thinking of Jesus’ actions the afternoon before when he occupied the Temple courts and stopped the afternoon sacrifice. The pieces are beginning to fall into place for this man. He’s perhaps beginning to understand why Jesus was bold enough to take such a dangerous action. Jesus was offering a fulfillment of Judaism which is what Hebrews 10 is all about:
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices,which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (v.11-14)
The religious leader was beginning to grasp this. It’s no wonder that Jesus commended him saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (34b).
Throughout his ministry, Jesus insisted that God was enabling His people to love him and to love others in a new way, a way promised by Israel’s prophets, a way possible in hearts and lives renewed by the sacrificial work Jesus would finish on the cross. Do you know that love?
When you or your community faces a crisis, what remains? Unconditional, wholehearted love of God and one another? Or a vicious race to look out for your own interests?