The Most Important Commandment
28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
(During Mark, portions of this book will be presented to help us understand our faith more deeply than perhaps we have before. I hope you enjoy learning more about Jesus as a Jewish man — and through these passages, see and appreciate more clearly the Jewish roots of our Christian faith.)
LOVE, THE ESSENCE OF THE TORAH
Both before and after Jesus, the rabbis were fascinated by one important question: “What is the greatest principle of the Torah?” They were looking for the one abiding principle that would embody all the rest. Hillel’s answer—”Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow”—was one response. About a hundred years after Jesus, Rabbi Akiva said: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
When Jesus was asked which commandment was the most important, his answer was to quote not one but two passages, beginning with the Shema: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Then he quoted from Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
But why two commandments, and not one? Jesus was being typically Jewish in setting two truths in tension with each other. Remember Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof, who used to say, “on the one hand . . . but on the other hand?” Jesus was saying that love is the best possible interpretation of the laws of the Torah—the ultimate summation of everything that God has taught in the Scriptures. In rabbinic lingo, you might even say that “love fulfills the law.” In fact, Paul said exactly that. And not only is love the best interpretation of the law, but Paul continues by saying that loving your neighbor is also the ultimate way to live it out:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
Ultimately, for both Jews and Gentiles, love of God and love of neighbor is what fulfills the Torah. And as John so eloquently tells us:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:10-12)
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
HERE is “More Love, More Power” sung by Michael W. Smith.
Whose Son Is the Messiah?
35 Later, as Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple, he asked, “Why do the teachers of religious law claim that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 For David himself, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit in the place of honor at my right hand
until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’
37 Since David himself called the Messiah ‘my Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with great delight.
38 Jesus also taught: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. 39 And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 40 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.
Here’s an illustration (by James Christensen) of the widow’s mite. I particularly like it.
Notice how the rich people aren’t even looking at her. They are looking away. I heard a sermon once where this story was used to illustrate how we ignore the poor among us, turning away. Did they care for her? Did they provide for the widow in their midst, who had nothing, but was generous to the point of extravagance?
What does it say about us?
What does it tell us about how God would have us to act?
43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.