Jesus seems to bring out the best in people or the worst in people. Some who heard him preach and teach saw him as a threat to their authority and influence, so they tried to discredit him. Religious communities are not immune to struggles for power. Some who listened to Jesus simply disagreed with him. We all have preconceived notions that get in the way of our hearing new truth.
Some listened to Jesus and discounted him as out of touch with reality. Even his family wasn’t too sure about his state of mind. And some people who heard Jesus came to him with honest, searching questions about the nature of faith and the quality of the religious life.
Jesus was challenged by the leaders of the religious establishment to reveal the source of his authority. He had been asked questions designed to entrap, questions about paying taxes to Caesar and the nature of relationships in resurrection life. And then, Mark tells us, an expert in the religious law asked Jesus a question. He had seen that Jesus answered well those questions that were designed to trick him. So the lawyer asked, quite honestly, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Here a question is put to him that is genuine and straightforward. It is a question put to him by a person who valued his opinion and sought insight about God’s expectations for faithful people. “Which commandment is the first of all?” We all make decisions, every day, out of a sense of what is most important for us to do. Without a sense of the relative importance of things, we simply bounce from activity to activity, event to event, with no sense of direction or purpose. That is equally true as we attempt to live as God wants us to live. “Which commandment is first of all?”
It is worth your time and mine, to ask ourselves, “What is the principle, the value which governs my life? What is the single standard by which I measure everything that I say and do?” Maturity in the Christian life is rooted in the awareness that there are two commandments which are above all others. Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question is the measure of our life.
Is there one God whom you worship? Do you love God with all that you are? Do you recognize that you do not live alone on this earth? Do you love the people with whom you share life as much as you love yourself? It is, first of all, a question of priority. Of all the things that we can do for God, the priority is love. I wish that Jesus had made it that easy. Love? I can do that! I can love God… I can even love you…. When Jesus answered the lawyer’s question about the commandments, he spoke not only about the priority of love but also about the totality of life that love engages.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind, and with all your strength.” All? Some say that most of us use only ten percent of the capacity of our mind. There are days when I feel like ten percent is a stretch for me. But is it possible that ninety percent of our ability to reason, to think, to understand, to love God with our mind goes untapped? At report card time my parents used to tell me, “You don’t have to make all ‘A’s’, we just want you to live up to your potential.” Who lives up to his or her potential? Who uses all the resources of mind or body or spirit?
The reality of life is that we are people of divided loyalties. Most of us do not give all of ourselves to anything. Not to our work, not to our family, not to our health, not even to God. How can we? So many things claim our attention and energy! How can we do something – anything –even love God, with all of who we are? Is there anyone reading this who loves God with all the heart, all the soul, all the mind…? Measured against our potential, we all fall short! We all live in partial fulfillment of our potential to learn, to think, to love, to pray. And to us, Jesus says, “Love God with all your heart…..” It seems that he asks us to measure our life by the impossible.
When Matthew and Luke recount this story, they tell it this way: the lawyer puts the question “What is the greatest commandment?” and Jesus replies, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” In Mark’s gospel, the reply is different. In Mark, Jesus quotes the entire passage from the book of Deuteronomy: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord…” - before the imperative, the indicative. God is one. God cannot be divided or separated. What God does, God does wholly, fully, completely. That affirmation of faith stands in stark contrast to the brokenness and incompleteness of my own worth.
What I do, I do partially. What God does, God does totally. And what God does, is love. When the law of Moses and the teaching of Jesus ask us to love God with all that we are, they are asking us to love as we are loved by God. What is the first commandment? To love God as God has loved you. And there is a second like it, to love each other as Jesus has loved us all. May we follow Jesus in these hard days of transition – we are reminded that we are the light and love of Christ to the world. One step each day, Rick