Two Truths of the Greatest Commandment

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And 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.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 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, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he  answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-24)

I love this story.  There is something about it that stirs me up inside.

It starts with Jesus answering the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, question about marriage and the resurrection by explaining how God is the God of the living and not of the dead. Then after hearing Jesus answering the concerns of these Sadducees well, one of the scribes, a group responsible for interpreting and teaching the scriptures, interjects himself into the conversation.

I love the exchange between Jesus and the scribe because it opens up my eyes to two truths I need to engage in my life: the truth of submission and the truth of obedience.

The truth of submission

Jesus answers the question about the greatest commandment; in hindsight, it’s not a difficult question. Some would say Jesus’ response is a summation or condensation of the entire law into two simple statements: love God and love others. Jesus’ response to the scribe highlights the necessity of understanding and then submitting to scripture. Jesus quotes from the “Shema”, Deuteronomy 6:4-9. But it’s not just quoting it, Jesus is answering with it. He places scripture as the foundation for behavior.

We live in a “I’m okay, you’re okay, so be okay with what I say is okay” society. There is a great gap between what the Bible says and how people live, and I don’t just mean in the non-believing world, but within the church as well. A dear friend of mine just preached the parable of the Good Samaritan, focusing on the question asked by a lawyer, “And who is my neighbor?” Somewhere beneath the surface of the question lies a heart seeking the easy answer, the path of least resistance, a short cut. How many of us look at a situation and try to determine the least we can do because it is easy, convenient, clean? Scripture informs us we are to love God and love others as ourselves. Do you live in a “least you can do” mindset when caring for yourself, when looking out for your interests?

Jesus’ answer to the scribe compels the believer to submit to God’s command which means submitting to what scripture says about every area of life. That truth means we need to study and understand God’s word. We have to meditate on it night and day in order for it to become our directive. The Bible is not “basic instructions before leaving earth”, but it does inform how people should live their lives.  As such, believers should know what it says.

But even if we know the answer, we still need to recognize that knowing is not the same as doing. 

The truth of obedience

I find Jesus’ “last word” in his dialogue with the scribe fascinating. Jesus tells him that he is not far from the kingdom of God.  Jesus saw that the scribe answered wisely, and then told him, “Hey man, you’re on the right track.” Jesus sees this guy, who clearly has read and understood the significance of passages like the Shema, compliments him on his study habits, and gives the equivalent to a pat on the back and a “Good effort.  You’re getting close.” At first glance it seems harsh to me because the scribe is clearly correct in his thinking and in his interpretation of all of scripture.  But then when you stop and think about it, understanding something is not enough.  You have to do something about the something that you know. Comprehending scripture is great, obeying it is better.

I think Jesus is driving at the same message found in Luke 10 in the aforementioned story of the Good Samaritan. You can know everything that God wants and understand the deepest truths of the gospel, but if you are not applying them to your life, you’re wasting your time trying to find out what God wants and understanding the deepest truths of the gospel. It is not enough to know the greatest commandment if you do not actually live the greatest commandment. 

Knowing gets you close to the kingdom of God, but acting gets you to it. You can know what scripture says, you can know the gospel and all of its implications inside and out, you can intellectually grasp the concepts of humility and kindness and grace and mercy, and still miss the mark.

Submitting to the word of God means obeying the word of God.  

As Martin Luther so wisely stated, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”

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