Mark 12:28–34 (NRSV)
The First Commandment
(Mt 22:34–40; Lk 10:25–28)
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 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’; 33 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.” 34 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.
There are times where seemingly simple things take a whole lot of energy. This week at work all I really had to do was audit the backroom. It is a simple task, the only thing you do is scan and count. Yet when you look at the long line of shelves that go from one side of the room to the other, from the floor to nearly the ceiling, the task seems daunting. The most stressful part was when I got to the DVD’s, you would not believe how many DVD’s can fit in a seemingly small amount of space, imagine how many can fit on a shelf eight feet wide.
While doing this daunting task of counting all the way to four about a million times. I found that I spent a few moments thinking about this week’s passage. It is a seemingly simple passage. It is very straight forward. It does not have words that could trip us up or anything. Yet this seemingly simple passage confounded me this week. Reminding me of the saying that the Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand yet complex enough to stump scholars.
It starts by saying that one of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another. What exactly were they disputing? It is important to know what the context of the scene is. In the previous chapter, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey, Mark calls it a colt which simply means that the animal was young enough that it had not yet been trained to bear burdens. When Jesus rode this beast into the city, the crowds of people sang his praises and waved palm leaves in the air. They took their coats off and they laid them along with branches on the ground before him. They yelled and screamed hosanna! They did all this because they declared this traveling teacher their king.
This is one of those stories that we often hear, but do we really take the time to contemplate the scene? In the culture of that day Jesus was a common person. Yes, he was God incarnate, but he was a common laborer. He was known by many as the carpenter. And many times, the upper class within their society asked where Jesus obtained the authority to do the things he did, because as far as they knew he was just a carpenter. It irritated them because this common person had a following, they were jealous, and, in their jealousy, they became petty.
Whenever Jesus stopped to teach, they were among the people in the crowd. Jesus would teach, he would perform miracles and people would be amazed. And the elites among the group would become more irritated. They would work their way to the front of the crowd and challenge Jesus on interpretation of scripture. They would say, “Why don’t your disciples wash before they eat as is the custom of the elders?” And they hoped that Jesus would say something to them that they could use against him.
This had gone on for three years. Three years they asked questions, and Jesus answered with parables that caused them to look as if they knew nothing about their own faith. And now the crowd is cheering Jesus on and claiming him to be the king. They are fearful of what might happen. Everything they had worked for is being challenged right before their eyes and they do not know what to do next. They once enjoyed seats of honor and now those seats are being offered to commoners. Jesus and his disciples go into a town and are invited into home and served as they teach. And many of these elite members of society are lucky to even get a seat at the table.
Now Jesus makes his way to the temple courts, the very center of their religious culture. He makes his way into their domain and they are beside themselves. There are several different religious philosophies that have a presence in the courts, each have representatives close at hand to teach the pilgrims as they offer their sacrifices. And while Jesus is there they engage in debates. These are not typical debates, but they are carefully crafted challenges. Pharisees and Sadducees join forces and ask questions of Jesus that should cause Jesus to choose one side over the other, yet with each question Jesus again cause them to look worse.
There is a scribe present, he is observing these debates and is impressed with the discourse. We often hear about scribes and at times we do not always know who they are. If we simply look at them based on their name we would think of them as educated individuals that could read and write, and they are. Their purpose is to be counselor for the common people, so they are basically lawyers. If there was a question of conduct of some sort you would consult a scribe, and they would give advice according to their understanding of the law. They are basically lawyers. This scribe was listening to the debates that Jesus was having with the religious scholars and he was probably laughing to himself as these well-respected rabbis were tripping themselves up on the details of various legal interpretations. He laughed because Jesus stepped around all the various interpretations and got to the heart of things.
This man decides to ask Jesus his own question. “Which commandment is first of all?” A simple question, but we need to understand what is meant by first before we can proceed. He is asking what is most important, what is primary, of all the commandment which take priority. Basically, he is asking, if there was only one law what would it be?
I imagine Jesus smiling at this scribe, he might have even given him a wink and a nod, because this is finally a question that makes sense. Every other question that Jesus was asked was one over the finer details over an interpretation. One that was debated among various factions with the hopes that this popular teacher would move to their side giving them more power and influence over the people. But this question is an honest question. It reminds me of the conversation that Jesus had with the rich ruler, the man that did everything right, but lacked one thing. This scribe is asking Jesus what is that one thing that is most important.
Jesus astonishes the crowd with his answer. The thing about Jesus is that he did not teach anything new. This might surprise people because the disciples of Jesus basically formed a new religion. But he did not teach anything new. Truth is truth no matter what. It is always truth even if it is not accepted. We look back in history think of Christianity being a new religion that was formed at the close of the first century it really is not, what happened is that the ancient faith of the Hebrews divided and took two different paths. The truth remains the same.
And that truth is simply this, “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.” There is nothing new here. This is a teaching that has been part of the faith of Israel since Israel existed.
A simple answer, yet this simple answer caused me to think this week. What does this really mean?
Heart. The heart had an interesting meaning to ancient cultures. Today if we look at the word we have basically two thoughts, heart is love or it is the organ that pumps blood through our bodies. In ancient times the heart was the seat of passion. It is what gave your drive to live. It was like a wild horse or a colt that had yet been trained to ride. The heart is filled with raw energy and potential that can lead us to greatness or great trouble. The books of wisdom encourage us to tame and guard our heart, an untrained horse can cause harm, but when it is tamed it can take you places.
Love the Lord your God with all your passion. We are a very passionate culture. It is one of the greatest things about America, we have the freedom to be passionate. And when people pursue their passions at times they become the stuff of legend. Athletes are passionate about their sport and they can become professionals. People with a passion of making life a bit easier have built technical empires that produce iPhones and windows operating systems, Google algorithms, and pandora music streaming. Things that even thirty years ago were wild dreams. Love the Lord your God with all your passion.
Soul. The soul is our inner life, our will. If our heart is our passion, our soul is our determination. The soul is what tames the passion. Love the Lord with all your will and determination. There are many people that have a passion for something but very few have the will to bring it about. It is our soul that take the athlete to the gym when their muscles hurt. It is the soul that causes the entrepreneur to invest the time and resources into a business that others do not see potential in. The soul is what carries a student through medical school, when they cannot figure out why they are studying at three in the morning. Love the Lord your God with all your determination and will.
Mind. This one also appears to be self-explanatory. When we consider our mind, we consider our wisdom and our intelligence. But there is more to our mind than just knowledge. When Jesus and the prophets of old speak of the mind they are speaking of our ability to reason. They speak of the process we take when we make decisions. It is our philosophy of life, and our methods. To love God with all your mind is to love God with not only what but how we think. It is our perception, how we interpret information, our judgment, our reasoning, basically your faith. Science is one aspect of the mind. It is taking observations and applying interpretations to those observations and formulating a conclusion. Mysticism is also an aspect of the mind, it also observes things, interprets things and forms conclusions. Your political ideology is an aspect of your mind. All of this is taking what we observe and formulating a conclusion based on our interpretation. Love the Lord with all your mind, Love him with your judgement, intentions, and your faith.
Strength. For most people this aspect of life deals with our bodies. And that is a decent interpretation, but it is not full. Strength deals with more than just the body, it also speaks of everything we have access to. It is our abilities, as well as our wealth. It is our property as well as our influence. To love God with all our strength is to love God with our business, our labor, our finances, and our relationships. If our heart is our passion, if our soul is our determination, if our mind is our faith, then strength is our action. It is what we do. It is how we interact with those around us.
Jesus includes the second command, for this reason. It is not because it is a lesser commandment, but it is resolution. It is the result of what proceeded it. When James speaks of faith and works, and we all cringe because we are from protestant traditions that believe in grace through faith not works. His is saying if you have the first this will be the result of it. If our passion, determination, faith, do not lead us to action we have not yet loved. If Steve Jobs and the Apple corporation did not actually produce the iPhone the world we know would not exist. If Henry Ford did not put into action the assembly line in the production of automobiles our world as we know it would not exist. If an author never put ink to paper our world as we know it would not exist. If we do not release our heart, soul, and mind to our strength we are people of fleeting passion, no determination, good intentions but no action. To put it bluntly without action nothing matters.
Love the Lord our God with all our passion, determination, faith and intentions, and all our action. Or as Nike would say JUST DO IT. Live your faith in everything you do. Let the spirit of God saturate every aspect of your life and spill over onto everyone around you.
Let your passion be saturated with God so that it will lead you to righteousness instead of wickedness. Let your will be filled with God so that you are determined to do good instead of evil. Let your judgement, intentions, and faith ooze with the Spirit of God so it will bring hope instead of dread. And may our actions with every resource available to us be directed by God so that we honor instead of dehumanizing those around us.
I thought about these words this week. I thought about my passions. I thought about my will and determination. I considered my thought processes and how I come to conclusions. These thoughts revealed a great deal to me about myself and my faith. What about you?
The scribe looked at Jesus after this and I imagine that this time the scribe smiles at Jesus and possibly winks. He says to the traveling teacher, “You are right. This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Stop and think about this for a moment. The offerings and sacrifices are the most important aspect of temple worship. Without these there is no need for the temple. This scribe is basically saying without these things there is no reason for us to even exist. Our worship is empty without Love for God and Neighbor. Our songs are nothing, our actions are nothing but dust in the wind. All that matters all that will last is the actions done for one purpose neighbor.
Think about it. The only things that last are the things that are invested in others. Corporations, organizations, churches when they do not invest in the others they cease because they lose their purpose. They lose the passion, will, and faith to put things into action. Fear takes hold, no heart, no soul, mindless, and movement ceases. Death. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but loses his soul?
Love God with everything. But do not forget the one thing, the neighbor. Because others are life.