“And 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.” (Mark 12:30-31 ESV)
We return to our narrative in the Gospel of Mark to find one more question posed to Jesus. While the Gospel according to Matthew presents the questioner as a Pharisee who wanted to “test” Jesus (Matt. 22:35), Mark presents him in a more positive light than the previous interrogators. According to Mark, this scribe was curious because Jesus answered the questions well (v28). He also seemed to appreciate Jesus’ response and affirmed it (v32-33), and Jesus treated him quite graciously, telling him that he is “not far from the kingdom of God” (v34).
Both accounts from Matthew and Mark are true, of course; the scribe, like the Pharisees and Sadducees before him, wanted to test Jesus, but perhaps he was more sincere in his question. As a lawgiver himself, he was curious about what Jesus would have to say about the Law of God. Which one is the most important?
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was accused of violating the law, whether it be healing on the Sabbath, his followers not washing their hands, eating with sinners and tax collectors, or teaching new doctrine. The rabbinical tradition of the Old Testament yields 613 laws, not to mention customs and applications that go beyond what is written. If these laws are an expression of God’s holiness and if obedience to them pleases God, which is the most important? How did Jesus answer?
Jesus brings the scribe back to the foundation: God is one, and we must love him with our entire being (heart, soul, mind, strength), and then love our neighbors as ourselves. It may seem like Jesus is giving three, but in reality, all the law and the prophets are summed up by this entire proposition. Because there is only One God, our Creator, he is worthy of our entire allegiance – not just dutiful obedience, but sincere love from the heart – and that allegiance to him will naturally result in our care and concern for our fellow man.
The law with all of its commandments and regulations really points us to love. Not a love that the world defines, but the love that comes from God: sacrificial, generous love. If we truly love God, we will love one another. If we love God, we will obey him. We commit sin because, in those moments, we do not love God as we ought.
To understand this foundational truth is to be near to the kingdom of God. But merely understanding it is not the same as entering the kingdom. When we truly consider the love that Jesus is calling us to, we will realize how far short we fall. We need a savior, a redeemer, someone who can love God and others perfectly. Praise God that Jesus not only loves his Father without fail, but he also loved us by giving his life for us! May the love of God in Christ compel us to love God and love others!