Mark 12: 28 – 34 The greatest commandment

Mark 12: 28 – 34 The greatest commandment

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

‘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 neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’

‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

*       *       *

Jesus’ reply to the teacher of the law who had asked which was the most important of the commandments, 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.”

This is a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 10: 12 – 13

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10: 12 – 13)

There is a subtle change of emphasis between the original in Deuteronomy and Jesus’ paraphrase. In Deuteronomy, the first thing the Israelites are told to do is to “fear the Lord your God”. The second is to “walk in obedience to him”. It’s not until you get to the third instruction that you see anything about love – and it’s just a brief mention, “to love him,” – and then we’re back to service with, “to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” and obedience with, “and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.”

But how different are they really? Let’s look at the detail.

“Fear the Lord your God.”

Is fear compatible with love? St John says: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4: 18)

“Walk in obedience to him”. God is all-powerful, but he’s given humanity free will. We can choose to obey or not. He wants the best for each one of us. That will happen if we listen for what he has to tell us, and obey him. Obedience to God is not something he imposes on us, it is something he wants for us so he can perfect us.

“And to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.” God has given us some strong pointers about how we can best live our lives. The ten commandments are a good start, and the example of the life of Jesus says pretty much everything else that we need to know.

After reviewing the two statements of the greatest commandment, it seems to me that there is a real difference between them. The version in Deuteronomy puts an emphasis on the fear of God. The version given by Jesus puts the entire emphasis on love. God the Father is love, and our appropriate response to him is to love him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength.

Jesus adds more to his reply to the teacher of the law, by giving him a summary of the rest of the Mosaic law in a single sentence: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

It is tremendously important to realise that these two commandments are so closely linked that they can’t be separated. If you lack the insight that God the Father is love, then how are you going to properly love your neighbour as yourself? If you aren’t trying to love your neighbour as yourself, you aren’t living your life in the way that God wants – and he wants only the best for you.

‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’

Jesus must have looked at this man and loved him. It was so rare that any of the religious establishment were able to accept his teaching.

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’

I think there were two things of which Jesus approved; the man’s knowledge that the kingdom of God was built on love; and his willingness to listen and learn.

I pray that I and any readers of this blog post will grow in our experience of God’s love, and show it every day in our love for our neighbours.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you for the teaching and example of Jesus. Please help me to love and obey him more each day.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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