28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34 NIV)
Jesus has been dealing with a barrage of questions from various groups, all of them looking to find grounds to arrest Him and destroy His ministry. The latest group to send their question to Jesus was the Sadducees, who don’t believe in the resurrection. Jesus disproves their basis of faith and teaches them the truth about heaven and eternity from the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses).
In today’s passage, the Pharisees send a scribe (an expert in God’s Law) to question Jesus. Mark’s account depicts this man as being neutral toward Jesus and asking a legitimate question; Matthew’s account (Matthew 22:34-35) further identifies this man as a Pharisee, asking the question as another test.
The question of the greatest command in God’s Law was a popular one in Jesus’ day. While there were hundreds and hundreds of laws that the Jews adhered to, they also tried to summarize God’s law into something they could carry in their mind all the time.
While the question may have been meant as a test, Jesus took the question and the sincerity of the man asking it at face value and answered without His typical rabbinical style of answering a question with a question.
Jesus answered the question by quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This was God’s command to His people – to love the one true God of Israel – the one and only. This was the first of the Ten Commandments given to Moses; it was also the basis of the success or failure of the entire nation of Israel from Moses’ day to Jesus’ day.
Jesus goes on to give a second commandment – to love others as much as we love ourselves. Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18, leaving off the first part of the statement that limited the love for others to other Jewish people only. In preparation for life and ministry after His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus opened up the commandment to pertain to all mankind – Jews and Gentiles alike,
These two commandments are inseparable. To love God is to love others.
The scribe agrees with Jesus and quotes the scriptures back to Jesus. The scribe also makes an observation by quoting 1 Samuel 15:22 and alluding to Hosea 6:6, both passages stating that heartfelt obedience to God is better than ritual sacrifice.
The scribe’s response is a surprise – he shows openness and humility, truly a response from the heart rather than merely reciting head knowledge.
Jesus responds to the scribe, telling him that he is not far from the kingdom of God. The scribe had come so much further on his journey toward Jesus than any of the other religious leaders. Would he take the leap of faith and believe in Jesus as Messiah, or would he stay with his human traditions? The text does not say.
Mark records that no one dared ask Jesus any more questions. Many different groups had tried to test Jesus; all were unsuccessful. They all went away both silenced and amazed.
What questions do we want to ask Jesus?
- Are we asking as a skeptic, unsure if He is who He says He is?
- Do we think our question is too hard for Jesus, since we haven’t figured it out?
- Are we afraid to ask our question because we don’t want to hear His answer?
- Are we asking out of a sincere heart of humility and obedience?
Sometimes Jesus answers our question with a question, to help us see what is going on deep inside of us, to reveal our inner fears or motives.
Sometimes He answers our question straight up, like He did for the scribe in today’s story.
No matter what the answer, He always invites the questions.
May we love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.