“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is a phrase that we have heard countless of times in our journey of faith. It is often referred to as the great commandment of love. Love God and neighbor, we’ve heard this from the beginning of our religious training, certainly we know this commandment very well. Maybe we know this one too well.
Back to the reading for a moment. Notice the exchange, “Teacher, which is the first of all the commandments?” There were, mind you, over six hundred precepts to the Jewish Law. That’s right — more than six hundred! It must have been so difficult to remember them, let alone keep them all straight. One could argue the scribe at this point has a reasonable question. Teacher, what is that one commandment we better not forget. The one which is of preeminent importance. The one we should have on the forefront of our minds. The Book Deuteronomy seems to have no question which is the most important, “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is Lord alone. Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all our mind and with all your strength.”
Now with more information, the scribe’s question to Jesus seems more suspicious. The scribe would have certainly known about the passage in Deuteronomy. So why did he ask Jesus? Was he testing him to see if Jesus was a man of God? Did the scribe try to catch him in a contradiction? We don’t know the scribes’ motives specifically, but we can speculate his motive was less than pure.
Pay attention to what Jesus does to the skeptical and limited mind of then scribe. He first recites the passage from Deuteronomy verbatim. Next, Jesus adds, “This is the second: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The scribe, of course, didn’t ask about a second. He just wanted the first. And he expected the first half of what he got. He may not have expected so bluntly what he heard after that. Jesus performs a wedding of sorts– tying together the love of God and the love of neighbor. They are no longer two but one, and first of all commandments.
In other words, there would be an incompatible contradiction if a person claimed he loved God and hated his neighbor. Conversely, one cannot love neighbor and hate God. Jesus teaches the love of God is now caught up and mingled with the love of neighbor.
Most people are aware it is relatively easy to love a God we cannot see, a God who often seems at quite a distance, a God seemingly and inherently removed from anything wrong in our lives. It is much more difficult to love those who constantly get in our way, those who move too slowly in front of us, those who hinder our plans. But Jesus reminds us by loving those who get on our nerves is loving God. We cannot conveniently separate the two when we want.
The Life of Jesus Personifies the Commandment of Love
Jesus did not need words to tell us about the commandment of love, all he needs to do is stand before us. The person of Jesus is the mingling of the divine and human. How could we love the divine nature of Jesus without loving his human nature? God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to assume human nature. His assumption shows how really important other human beings are. We often forget the immense worth of every human being especially when they annoy us or act contrary to what is good.
The scribe after hearing Jesus finally came to the realization of the mingling of the first and second commandment and abiding by them is worth more than any burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus affirmed him by saying he is not far from the kingdom of God.
How far are we away from the kingdom?