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?” —Mark 12:28
There’s a crowd of people around Jesus with different views on interpreting their religious laws: there are Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and scribes present, all arguing about the Old Testament laws they hold in common but understand differently. A modern-day equivalent might be a variety of Catholics, Presbyterians, evangelical Christians, and United Church of Christ leaders arguing about who can be ordained or the exact nature of the Eucharist. Each group could point to support for their views in scripture, just as the groups arguing in front of Jesus could find support for their views about which commandment is the greatest.
The scribe’s question was commonly debated in his day. There are 613 commandments in the Jewish laws, so which one is the most important? Immediately, Jesus repeats the one commandment that every observant Jew would have recited three times a day: “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 debaters would be hard-pressed to find fault with that answer, but Jesus doesn’t stop there. Lest someone ask how to love God, or someone else claim they love God even as they harm another person, Jesus tags on something, also from the Old Testament. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If you want to love God, love your neighbor. If you don’t love your neighbor, you don’t love God. The scribe knows Jesus has nailed it by smoothly combining two commandments into one. From then on, Jews and Christians have had a ready-made answer whenever anyone asks us to explain the basics of our religion.
For Action: What can you commit to doing today to put your love for God in action by showing your love for someone else?
To Pray: Lord, let me witness that I love you through the love I show to others.