Mark 12:28-34This really gets at the heart of how we are to follow Jesus and really live.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall 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, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; 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 oneself,' --this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Over the last couple of days as we have been going through the Gospel of Mark we have seen the Jewish religious leaders asking Jesus trick questions to try to get him in trouble. Today, we see a Jewish scribe ask Jesus a real and very important question. This man who posed the question really wanted to know the answer. The Jews counted 613 laws in their sacred scriptures. This man wanted to know which one was the most important.
In answer, Jesus picks the two laws or commandments that sum up all the rest. First, Jesus said, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. That is job #1 for all of us. And it is something we can spend a lifetime doing yet never achieve perfectly. I believe Jesus is the only one who has ever fulfilled this commandment. The good news is: Jesus can help us to fulfill it too, not all at once, but over the course of a lifetime we can grow in loving God.
In recent days I have been searching for a church to serve as pastor. We moved ten months ago so that my wife could accept a job in a new location. Therefore, I had to give up the two churches I was serving. Anyway, a total stranger recently said to me, "I hope you will find a church where you can grow as a human being and grow closer to God." That is what life ought to be all about for all of us, don't you think?
But Jesus goes beyond telling this scribe what commandment is most important. He also tells him what command is second in importance. The reason I think Jesus does this is because the second is related to the first. In fact, we cannot fulfill either of these commands well without seeking to fulfill the other. They go together.
Jesus says the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. This command actually implies two loves in addition to, or related to, our love for God. We need to love our neighbor, but we also need to love ourselves. If we do not love ourselves, it is impossible to love others. And the only way we can love ourselves, I believe, is if we receive God's love for us through Jesus, a love that offers forgiveness when we fall short of being all that God wants us to be. Once we receive God's love and forgiveness through Jesus then we can love and forgive ourselves, and we can begin to love others.
Notice too what Jesus does not say. He does not tell us to judge others. In fact, elsewhere Jesus specifically tells us not to judge others (Matthew 7:1). Jesus knows that judgement is too heavy a load for us to bear; we need to leave all judgement to Jesus. He can handle it; we cannot.
When we judge others we are putting ourselves above them, at a distance. We are not really loving when we do that. How can we love others at a distance? No, we must come close to others to love them. We must get to know another person before we can really love them, before we can do for them what they need, and be for them the person they need us to be.
God's love for us was demonstrated not in his standing at a distance and telling us how life should be lived. God's love was demonstrated in him coming close to us in Jesus and identifying with us in all of our pain and joy. I believe God wants us to show the same kind of incarnational love to others. And Jesus alone can help us to do that.
To focus on growing in our love for God, our love for others, and our love for ourselves--engaging in these three loves is the most important thing we can do in life. To focus on these three things, and drop the rest, is really a relief and a release into new life.