Jesus is engaging all comers in debate, there have been Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. One lawyer has been hanging back, observing. Now, he steps in with his question. Mark leaves open the question about whether this is intended as another trap but observes that this man has been impressed by Jesus’ answers so maybe there is at least in part a desire to hear and learn from Jesus’ answer.
Read Mark 12:28-34
The man has one, very simple question for Jesus “What is the greatest commandment.” Out of all of the commands in the Torah, he wants to know if there is one specific one that stands out that he should focus on. Jesus gives him a bonus answer! He gives him the first and the second as well.
First, we are to love God, whole heartedly. The reference to the whole heart, mind and soul is not intended to indicate different parts of your personality but to emphasis the totality of the love expected. I am meant to love God with everything that I am. The second commandment is that we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
I think the NLT is right to draw out a likeness here. The commandments are closely related. We show that we love the God we cannot see by loving the neighbours we can see. We can only love our neighbours because of God’s love poured out to us – it is the natural overflow of his love for us and ours for him. The two commandments in effect sum up the whole of the Law. The Ten Commandments are all about how we love God and love each other.
The man is clearly impressed by Jesus’ answer and grasps the significance of it. He realises that God looks on the heart, not at religious rituals. The other Gospel accounts fill out the details, the story doesn’t quite finish here as he attempts to justify and excuse himself, recognising that he cannot meet God’s standard by asking “who is my neighbour?” This of course prompts Jesus to respond with the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Mark however draws the conversation to a close here as he has reached the point he wants to emphasise.
Jesus tells the man that he is not far from God’s kingdom. He sees someone genuinely searching and also he has grasped the answer that God’s kingdom is all about this matter of love. He isn’t there yet because he needs to grasp that he cannot keep the law himself. It is only Jesus who has fully and truly loved the Father whole-heartedly. It is only Jesus who has loved his neighbour as himself, even praying forgiveness for his enemies. We need his righteousness to be applied to us and that is what justification by faith is all about. But that’s for another day!
The crucial questions for us are whether or not we have grasped yet how worthy of all of our love God is? And have we started to learn how to love others, starting with our brothers and sisters in the church?
This week as we have been looking through Mark 12 we’ve been thinking all about what we owe to God. The answer is that we owe him our all, we owe him our everything.