Mark 12:28-34 What Really Matters
Thus far in Jerusalem, Jesus has dealt with the chief priests, the scribes & elders, the Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees, and finally here, just one of the scribes. He seems to be impressed with Jesus’ answers in the previous discussion(s), so he comes with a question of his own for the Rabbi:
Which commandment is the most important of all? (v. 28, ESV)
Fair enough. Jesus’ answer (v. 29-30) comes from the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
EXCURSUS 1: It is interesting to note that in the New Testament Jesus adds “mind” to the 3 ways we love God in comparison to Deuteronomy’s rendering – heart, soul and might (Deut. 6:5, ESV). Jesus calls us here to love (and serve) God with our whole being. Have you encountered forms of Christianity which seem to view the mind as, somehow, more “fallen” than the rest of our being? Have you ever felt like you were supposed to check your brain at the door of the church and ‘lean not to your own understanding’ as if the use of our intellect is somehow “unspiritual”? What has been your encounters with anti-intellectualism in your church experience?
and now, back to our story…
But wait, there is a Part 2 to Jesus’ answer – “love your neighbor as yourself” (also taken from the Law, Lev. 19:18) and He seems to put this on par with the first!
“There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Jesus (Mark 12:31, emphasis mine)
But let’s back track a bit with a few observations before we move on. First, the commands are tied to who God is (His identity). Jesus begins His answer to what command is most important with the introductory statement of Deut. 6:4 – “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one” (my translation, a more literal rendering). With that foundation laid, only then, does He proceed to reveal the greatest commandment!
Let’s be clear here. The two commandments are inseparable. One simply cannot claim to love God, and yet refuse to love their fellow human being. We cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus, and ignore Jesus command to have compassion on our neighbor – it is a logical inconsistency!
The scribe seems to praise Jesus’ answer (v. 32) first summarizing it in agreement, and then adding that to love God and one’s neighbor “is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (v. 33), reminiscent of 1 Sam. 15:22 – the man knows his Bible (he is a scribe after all)! Despite the scribe’s reference to the Old Testament, this statement is really huge here, especially in light of Jesus’ challenges against the temple and the favored status of ethnic Israel since His arrival in Judaism’s holy city (see R. Alan Cole, TNTC, on v. 32-33).
EXCURSUS 2: Speaking of the Law and sacrifices, I came across this same concept in my devotions recently in, of all places, the book of Numbers: “Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed…” (Num. 5:6-7, emphasis mine). Did you catch that? When we wrong another person, we have been unfaithful to God! Why? Because every human being is created in the image of God!
Continuing, Jesus’ reply that “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (v. 34), on its face value, seems encouraging, but the text neither affirms that this scribe has indeed entered the kingdom, nor does it deny that he may have become a disciple of Jesus at some point (see TNTC on v. 34). For Lane, this is intended to provoke reflection on the kingdom of God from an eschatological perspective, as well as the demands of the messianic Kingdom (NICNT, p. 434). And so the many questioners of Jesus are silenced, opening up the way for what follows in Mark’s good news account – several pericopes of Jesus’ (monologue) teaching material (Mark 12:35-13:36).
And so, as a follower of Jesus, I must love my neighbor with the same love with which God cares for him or her. But if I try to do this by the “suck it up and just do it” method I will surely fail. Love for neighbor is rooted in who God is. It ultimately flows from the love of God Himself. When I come to truly grasp the love God has for me in the deepest part of my soul (when I can just “be” in God’s presence and that is enough for me without any need to perform, proving my love) then love for my neighbor will naturally flow from me to the hurting and lost in the world around me. Then, even if I don’t have the means to supply their need, I will be compelled to sit with them, hold them, rejoice with them even when they receive what I have long wished that I could have (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors Jeep)!