The Most Important Commandment
28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
29 Jesus replied, "The most important commandment is this: 'Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30 And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.' 31 The second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' No other commandment is greater than these."
32 The teacher of religious law replied, "Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law."
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Whose Son Is the Messiah?
35 Later, as Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple, he asked, "Why do the teachers of religious law claim that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 For David himself, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said,
'The LORD said to my Lord,
Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.'
37 Since David himself called the Messiah 'my Lord,' how can the Messiah be his son?" The large crowd listened to him with great delight.
Jesus is asked about a topic commonly debated among the religious leaders of his day: the most important commandment in the Scriptures. He responds by saying that loving God with our entire being, followed by loving and caring for those around us, is the most important thing in life. Jesus then asks a question of his own regarding the identity of the Messiah. Although the Messiah is to be a descendent of David, he will also be far superior to David, who was the greatest king of Israel and a man after God's own heart.
All the commandments (Mark 12:28)
In sharp contrast to the Sadducees, the scribe in this story "came with no apparent hostile or hidden motive," but simply "to appraise Jesus' skill in answering a much-debated subject in scribal circles."1295 "The Pharisees had codified the law into 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions. These 613 precepts were imposed by the Pharisees on their followers as their obligation."1296 It was inevitable that, at certain times and in certain situations, one command would come into conflict with another. Thus there were ongoing debates regarding which command was to be obeyed and which one was to be ignored. There were also attempts to summarize the entire law in one single command.1297 "As a Pharisee himself [see Matthew 22:34-36], the man had in mind the debates over the relative importance of ritual, ethical, moral, and ceremonial laws, as well as the positive versus negative laws."1298
Linking passages of Scripture together based on key words was actually a common Jewish interpretive technique. "These passages were also linked in Jewish tradition (e.g., Philo), and some other teachers felt that these were the greatest commandments that summarized the law. This was especially true of 'Love the Lord your God'."1299 That said, it appears that no one prior to Jesus placed these two commands on equal footing. What's more, "Jesus, not only by word but also by very deed, was the first to set forth the true meaning of perfect love toward God united with perfect love toward man."1300 The order in which Jesus placed the commands is also very important. If we truly love God, then love for our neighbor will follow. However, if we try to put loving our neighbor above loving God, we will be unable to properly love either one.1301
Listen, O Israel (Mark 12:29)
Jesus responded by first of all reciting the Shema ("from the opening word 'Hear,' which in Hebrew is shema"1302), described as "[t]he 'watchword of Israel's faith,' a declaration of the oneness and uniqueness of God as found in the opening words of Deuteronomy 6:4: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.' ... The Shema is not a prayer (rabbinic literature never refers to 'praying' the Shema) but a confession of faith or creed. ... [T]he main focus of the Shema in its original setting - ancient Near Eastern polytheism - is clearly on the fact there is one God. Yahweh alone claims the unqualified love and obedience of all His creation."1303 "[R]ecited by pious Jews every morning and evening[,] [i]t basically affirms two things: (1) the unity of God ('the Lord is one') and (2) the covenant relationship of God to the Jewish people ('the Lord our God')."1304 Apparently Jesus' aim in reciting the Shema was to bypass endless debate and get back to a basic, foundational truth: "What mattered were not laws and their relative importance; what mattered was a relationship with the one true God."1305
Love the Lord your God (Mark 12:30)
Jesus affirmed that "[t]he whole duty of man, the whole moral-spiritual law, can be summed up in one word: love."1306 In simplest terms, we are to love God with every ounce of our being. As one paraphrase renders it, we are to love God "with all [our] passion and prayer and intelligence and energy" (The Message). Jesus said:
And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart (Greek kardia: "the center of desires and affections"1307).
all your soul (Greek psuche: a "person's 'being' and uniqueness"1308)
all your mind (Greek dianoia: "the center of a person's intellect"1309)
and all your strength (Greek ischus: "physical capabilities"1310)
Notice the repetition of the word "all," meaning that "[n]ot even the smallest corner is to be closed against [God] and opened to another."1311 A more precise definition of the various terms reveals much overlap,1312 indicating that "[t]he use of the various terms is not meant to delineate distinct human faculties, but to underscore the completeness of the kind of love that is called for."1313 To love God as Jesus said "calls for a volitional commitment to God that is personal, comprehensive, and wholehearted."1314 It is "the love of intelligence and purpose and is thus far above the love of mere liking or affection."1315 Through Christ "God gives himself totally in love to his people; therefore he expects his people to give themselves totally ('soul,' 'mind,' and 'strength') in love to him."1316
It is also helpful to see this command in light of its original context: "Loving the Lord with all the heart and soul and strength is placed at the head, as the spiritual principle from which the observance of the commandments was to flow (see also Deuteronomy 11:1; 30:6). It was in love that the fear of the Lord (Deuteronomy 10:12), hearkening to His commandments (Deuteronomy:13), and the observance of the whole law (Deuteronomy 11:22), were to be manifested; but love itself was to be shown by walking in all the ways of the Lord (Deuteronomy 11:22; 19:9; 30:16)."1317
Love your neighbor (Mark 12:31)
But Jesus did not stop there. He cited "a second commandment ... which is of the same supreme quality as the first."1318 Jesus said we are to love neighbor as self - that is, to be just as concerned for the well-being of others as we are for our own. A "neighbor" (Greek plesion) is "'one who is nearby,' a generic term for fellowman1319; "any other man irrespective of nation or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet."1320 As one source puts it: "[A neighbor] is anyone who has been providentially placed in [our] path for sympathy and help. A person should really never ask, 'And who is my neighbor?' Instead, he himself should be a true neighbor to those in need, even though they be his enemies. See Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 10:30-37."1321 As another source notes, "neighbor" refers to "one who is near us, i.e., one with whom we come in contact, no matter who he may be. It is idle to demand love for one of whose existence we know nothing."1322 Thus rather than some lofty philosophy that produces much heat but little light, love of neighbor is actually an imminently practical idea that can/should be practiced daily.
Along those same lines, one Bible commentator notes that it is for very practical reasons that the command says to "love your neighbor" rather than to "like your neighbor":
This love for our neighbor could not be expressed by ["like"] for the simple reason that liking would not be enough, and that we could not possibly like everyone with whom we come in contact. Take some vicious individual or some filthy person - can you embrace and kiss him and take him into your home? But you can, indeed, love him (agapan) with the intelligence that sees and comprehends what is wrong with him and with the noble and true purpose of ridding him of what is wrong with him. This love will ever make the true interests of its neighbor its own.1323
Taken together, the two commands Jesus gave can serve as a summary of the Ten Commandments: the first four commandments focus on our relationship with God, while the remaining six focus on our relationship with people.1324 The two greatest commands describe the type of person God chooses to honor. They also convict us of our need for a Savior, since we all fall far short of keeping them completely.1325 In his parallel account, the apostle Matthew includes Jesus' declaration that: "'The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments'" (Matthew 22:40). Or, as one modern paraphrase renders it: "These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them." (The Message). In other words, according to Jesus, "all of the commandments were given for two simple reasons - to help us love God and love others as we should."1326
More important than ... offerings and sacrifices (Mark 12:33)
The scribe was delighted at Jesus' response, declaring that love for God and neighbor were of greater importance than offerings and sacrifices. "In other words, love was more important than all the ritual and ceremonial laws."1327 As one source puts it, the scribe found Jesus' answer to be "so complete, so rich and satisfying, so illuminating in every way that the scribe himself said so in his own way."1328 Obviously the scribe had been seriously wrestling with this issue, and it may well be that prior to his conversation with Jesus he had attached more weight to the offerings and sacrifices.1329 On the other hand, he may have already reached the same conclusion as Jesus and was overjoyed to have his interpretation affirmed.1330 It is certainly the case that the truth of Jesus' words were "emphasized and constantly repeated in the Old Testament. See especially the following passages: 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 40:6-7; 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:10-17; Hosea 6:6: Micah 6:6-8."1331 While the Judaism of Jesus' day gave equal weight to love and sacrifices,1332 the scribe declared, and Jesus implicitly affirmed, that love was superior. Thus "[t]his man had caught the intent of God's law as it is so often stressed in the Old Testament - that true obedience comes from the heart."1333 ("Because the Old Testament commands lead to Christ, the man's next step toward obtaining God's kingdom was faith in Jesus himself. ... Perhaps after Jesus' death and resurrection, this understanding Pharisee also became a believer."1334)
Son of David (Mark 12:35)
"It was a common belief in Judaism that Messiah would be David's son in that he would come from the lineage of David."1335 Quoting from Psalms 110, Jesus taught that the Messiah is both a son of (= descendant of) David and far superior to David, strongly implying that the Messiah is both man and God.1336 "The Davidic sonship of the Messiah was a standard Jewish belief (cf. John 7:41-42) firmly based on the Old Testament Scriptures (cf. 2 Samuel 7:8-16; Psalms 89:3-4; Isaiah 9:2-7; 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; 33:15-17, 22; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11). Jesus added that it is equally true that the Messiah is David's Lord."1337 As another source puts it: "David's Son is God's Son. Accordingly, when Jesus now says, 'How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?' he means, 'How can they say that the Christ is merely the Son of David?'"1338 And so, "[w]ithout clearly stating it, Jesus was lifting the veil of his divine identity. The divine Messiah would indeed come in human form, and he was standing among them."1339
Besides serving as a marker to set him apart from all the rest of David's descendants,1340 the Messiah's deity spelled profound implications for Israel's religious leaders. Like the rest of the nation at that time, they thought of the promised Messiah in earthly terms - "a human ruler who would reign on King David's throne, deliver them from Gentile domination by establishing God's rule on earth, and restore Israel's greatness as in the days of David and Solomon."1341 To the religious leaders' way of thinking, such a Messiah posed no real threat to them personally: he would have his power, and they would still have theirs. Jesus, on the other hand, was very much a threat, as his open, repeated, and vehement denunciation of the religious leaders' false teaching and hypocritical ways represented a clear and present danger to their power and control. If he really was the Messiah, then they were in serious trouble. Their solution? Get rid of him.
Not for Sissies
The story is told of a group of senior citizens who lived in a retirement home. One day they were sitting around comparing their various and sundry aches, pains, and illnesses.
Arthritis made everyone's list. Indigestion was very popular. And of course there were ulcers, as well as insomnia. And on it went.
Finally one gentleman who was 85 years old spoke up and said, "Well, it just goes to prove that getting old ain't for sissies!"1342
"[Jesus'] provocative questions brought delight to the crowds, thoughtfulness to the attentive, and continued anger to his enemies."1343 As Jesus' followers, we too can expect mixed reactions as we openly proclaim in both word and deed God's life-transforming truth. Some people will be delighted by it, some will give it serious thought, and some will want to kill the messenger. Which just goes to prove that being a faithful follower of Jesus ain't for sissies!
??? What are some practical, everyday habits we can form that will help our "thoughts, decisions, and actions" to be governed by the two greatest commands?1344 (Hint: Begin with the basics of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship.)