Mark 12:28-34

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. Mark 12:28-34

Whenever you read “the scribes” in the Bible, imagine a small-town lawyer. They were the local experts on the law as a means of structuring community life – marriages, divorces, contracts, mortgages, etc. Some assumed powerful positions as administrative assistants to the ruling class. In Mark – except in the case of this exchange – they were primary adversaries of Jesus.

Listen closely to how Jesus answers the question posed by the scribe. Jesus goes beyond Moses’ tablets of stone. Jesus cuts through to the more fundamental idea that lies behind and beneath the Law. Life is about BOTH loving God and loving our neighbors.

Jesus quotes the Shema, “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.” So far, so good. Jesus reaches back to Deuteronomy 6, something that parents were supposed to teach their children every day of their lives. But then he goes beyond that.

Jesus adds, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Life is about BOTH loving God AND loving our neighbor. Life is about love. Even the scribe admits to that truth.

Many people live with a very transactional, if-then, concept of God. That is certainly the theology underlying Deuteronomy. “If you do good, God will bless you; if you do bad, God will destroy you.” Certainly doing good is a good thing….but we are sinful people and we can quickly twist “good deeds” into self-righteousness, pride, superiority, and privilege. We’re Number One! Soon we think we own God. We control God based on what we do or don’t do.

History is full of examples of people doing atrocious things to other people even as they convince themselves that they are following God’s will. What’s love got to do with that?

The corrective to self-righteousness and tribalism is the call to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus didn’t invent this idea. It is the logic of God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s call to justice and righteousness. This a relational, because/therefore, concept of God. Because I trust that God loves me, therefore I will love my neighbor.

Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Even if that means wearing a mask in public, social distancing, and purposely choosing not to gather people together in large indoor crowds. Even if that means not name-calling, scape-goating, blaming, misleading, or manipulating our neighbor.

If you think you are loving God while behaving unlovingly toward others, you are kidding yourself.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, to love you is to trust you, to follow you, to obey you, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Help us be loving today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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