One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
The First Commandment
The question from the scribe is about the first commandment. Jesus launches into an answer instead of turning the question around and back to the scribe. In his answer he cites two passages from the Law. The first is the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:
I have included the context of the “love your neighbor as yourself” command to show it’s depth and reach. To love one’s neighbor as oneself includes the trilogy of the vulnerable - the orphan, the widow, and the alien - that is written into much of the Law. The call to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a call to justice in the community, extending even to those outside of the community. “The Leviticus tradition is or particular interest, for it defines love of neighbor in terms of non-exploitation (Myers, 318).”
Jesus’ critique of the temple institution, its mechanics, and its leaders, is that they have exploited the very people whom they have been called to help - the most vulnerable. As we will see in the story of the widow and her two coins, the very place that was created to protect and support her, the temple, has been turned into a system that exploits her.
While not creating a new command, Jesus is bringing these two together to demonstrate the radical nature of our relationship with God and how it shapes the new social reality called the kingdom of God.
“The point Mark is trying to make by his bold conflation is consistent with his ideology: heaven must come to earth - there is not love of God except in love of neighbor (Myers, 318).”
The new social reality called the kingdom of God will demonstrate it’s love for God by taking care of the wholeness of the community. Radical equality, abundance in sharing, and taking care of the most vulnerable will serve as signs that God’s kingdom is a present reality through the followers of Jesus Christ.
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- How does the church as institution serve its own mechanics of survival and ignore its call to serve the wholeness of the community?
- How are our churches held captive by the mechanics of survival?
- How do we demonstrate our love of God by loving our neighbors?