Mark 12:28–34 NRSV – “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?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 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’; 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.” 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.”
Summary – In the context various religious groups are questioning and even trying to trap Jesus. In this case a scribe is more sincere and ask Jesus to prioritize the Old Testament Laws. The Jews of Jesus day counted 613 laws. So Rabbis often tried to prioritize making some laws more important than others – for example keeping the sabbath for Pharisees or keeping sacrificial laws for the Sadducees. Jesus summarizes the chief commandments as first loving the Lord God and second loving your neighbor as yourself. As a result of the scribe’s approval of this, Jesus sees in him a genuine desire to accept the truth and commends him that he is “not far from the kingdom” which is another way of saying he is not far from accepting the King of the kingdom.
Insight – Have you heard the saying, Life is complicated? There are times when we really are confused about what to do. We sometimes find ourselves in situations and we don’t know what to do or where to turn. In many ways the Jews of the first century were in this kind of situation. The Sadducees had one view, the Pharisees another, the Herodians another, and the zealots another. Those who sincerely awaited God’s Messianic kingdom were pulled in many directions. It is just in this setting that Jesus simplifies our duties: love God and love your neighbor. Despite all the other lesser commands, the right categories are simply to love God and love neighbor. Everything else must fit under that. It’s not complicated. It’s simple. When we don’t know what to do, we should ask what duty do I have in this situation and those duties are summarized as loving God and loving others.
Catechism – What are the chief commandments? The chief commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor.
Discussion – How are these chief commandments to love God and to love our neighbor a way to fulfill other laws like the Sabbath (4th Commandment) or Honor father and mother (5th Commandment)?
Prayer – Lord God we do love you and we desire to love you more since you have given us such abundant love, mercy and grace through Jesus Christ who died for us and ever lives as our king. Grant that we are strengthened to love others and give ourselves in service to them, through Christ our Lord. Amen.