Thursday, June 4, 2009

There Is No Commandment Greater Than These!

Mark 12:28-34

One of the Scribes asked Jesus, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The first and most important of them," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone! 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: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."

"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

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“Shema Israel! Adonai eloheinu, adonai echad!” Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone! This text of scripture was a topic of great debate among the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. On the one hand, some strove to distill God’s law into its very essence, and express it in as few words as possible; on the other, some tended to expand it into hundreds – if not thousands – of very specific regulations, that dealt with every aspect of the relationship between the human person and God, and between one human person and all others, as individuals and as members of society.

Finally, a teacher of the Law with an honest question! When Jesus answers, he says, approvingly, “Well said!” He sounds less like a rabbi speaking to another rabbi, than an examiner congratulating a student. At least, it’s a better question than those posed yesterday and the day before, which were riddles deliberately intended to entrap Jesus. “You are not far from the Kingdom,” Jesus responded to the compliment. Good citizenship in God’s Kingdom is not a matter of reciting rote formulas like children learning the times tables: One times two is two. Two times two is four. Three times two is six. …

“Love your neighbor as yourself” is the Golden Rule. Sometimes it is described as the heart of the Gospel message, and a uniquely Christian teaching. The first part of that description is accurate, but not the second part. The Golden Rule is a core directive of the relationship of the followers of Christ to other persons. But it does not take much study to learn that this precept is echoed in every religion and in many, if not most, secular and humanistic philosophies. Sometimes it is phrased in the affirmative, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; sometimes, in the negative, “Do not treat another person in a way you would not want to be treated.”

If the Golden Rule is the norm of relationships between persons regardless of their religion or their philosophy, we must look further for the guiding principle of Christian living. In today’s gospel passage Jesus was replying to a question about the Mosaic Law; he was giving his interpretation of it. When Jesus spoke for himself he did not say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, but “Greater love than this no one has, except to give up his life for his friend. You are my friends if you do what I command you. My command to you is this: Love one another as I have loved you. That is the entire law, and all of the commandments.”

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