My Dear Parishioners,
In the earlier parts of Mark’s Gospel Jesus debated with hostile priests (11:27-33), Pharisees (12:13-17), and Sadducees (12:18-27). Now in this section (12:28-34), He meets with a Scribe, who, in contrast to other religious leaders, understood Jesus. So one of the Scribes asked Him, “Which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” A Scribe’s daily work was to explain the Law or Torah of the Jewish religion, and especially the unwritten traditions which had grown up in addition to the laws themselves. There were a great many laws and traditions. Scribes could recite the 365 actions they had to avoid and the 268 they had to perform. Naturally they discussed among themselves, ‘Is there one commandment which is more important than all the rest?’ Some used to say ‘Yes’; but others taught that all commandments were equally important, and that it was just as bad to offer a sick dove in sacrifice as to steal your neighbor’s wife. This is the question which the Scribe asked Jesus. Jesus’ answer was, ‘Yes’, there is one commandment greater than all the rest, the commandment to “Love”.
At first Jesus reiterated that the Lord is one. The Lord our God is the only Lord. This is the great truth which Christians, Jews and Muslims share. Because God is one, we serve the one and only God in everything we do in our lives. People of every race and generations need this truth because many people worship several gods. Jews in the time of Elijah used to sacrifice to Baal when they wanted their farms to be fruitful, but to Jehovah (God) in wartime. At that time many Jews did not believe that there is only one true God. Educated people of today sometimes worship the Father of Jesus Christ when in church, but in wartime give greater loyalty to the nation than to Him. In the same way, they may worship their possessions while doing business, and their bodies when marrying. This verse stating that God is one, comes from Deut.6:4-5, known to Jews as the ‘Shema’. It was and is still said everyday by devout Jews. The other part of Jesus’ answer is taken from Lev.19:18. Jesus used the Old Testament very much, even though He gave new interpretation to some passages. It was His bible, and therefore is still very important for present-day Christians. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” We must love God with the whole of ourselves. This is what the word ‘heart’ meant to all Jews (Thus it does not mean our ‘feelings’ only, nor the part of the body through which blood flows). The three words that follow ‘soul, mind and strength’, are simply a way of emphasizing this lesson. We show whether we love God by the way in which we make decisions (with our wills), as we think out what we believe (with our minds), as we fall in love, are joyful, sad, or triumphant (with our feelings). The New Testament writers did not say much about ‘loving God’; they put their emphasis on the truth that God loves us. If we let this truth sink into ourselves, we respond by loving Him (John 4:10).
Love your neighbor as yourself”. Here the word ‘Love’ is a translation of the Greek word ‘agape’ which means sincerely wanting other people to have the best things that God offers, and being willing to help them actively, even if that leads to our suffering or if they don't love us in return. Loving in this way is very difficult, but Jesus showed and taught that it is possible. Hence love is not the same as being happy in someone’s presence or being attracted to their body. Friendship and sex-instinct are God’s gifts, but they are not the same as ‘agape’. Further, when the Jews heard neighbor, they thought it referred to another Jew. Mark did not say what Jesus meant, but Luke did tell us. He put Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan immediately after the account of the Scribe’s question to show that ‘neighbor’ means anyone in need. We are commanded to love ourselves , because we are God’s children and made in some ways to be like Him (Gen.1:27). It is wrong to neglect any of His children. Therefore, it is our duty to look after our own bodies, to develop our minds, to train our souls to grow in our relationship with God. And just as we forgive others if we love them, so we need to forgive ourselves when we have done wrong. There is no greater commandment than these: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus was first saying that there is indeed one commandment which is more important than the others, it is the commandment to love; secondly, that loving God and loving people go together. We do not need to ask which is more important. Jesus was the first to put these two commandments together. To love is better than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. The Scribe recognized that it is more acceptable to God to love Him and to love other people than to perform actions which are called ‘holy or religious’.
With all good wishes Rev. Chris Archibald