Mark 12:28-34

LOVE FOR GOD AND LOVE FOR MEN

Mk. 12:28-34

One of the experts in the law, who had listened to the discussion, and who realized that Jesus had answered them well, approached him and asked him, “What is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered, “`The Lord thy God is one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind, and your whole strength.’ This is the second, `You must love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment which is greater than these.” The expert in the law said to him, “Teacher, you have in truth spoken well, because God is one, and there is no other except him, and to love him with your whole heart, and your whole understanding, and your whole strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is better than all burnt-offerings of whole victims and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one any longer dared to ask him any questions.

No love was lost between the expert in the law and the Sadducees. The profession of the scribes was to interpret the law in all its many rules and regulations. Their trade was to know and to apply the oral law, while, as we have seen, the Sadducee did not accept the oral law at all. The expert in the law would no doubt be well satisfied with the discomfiture of the Sadducees.

This scribe came to Jesus with a question which was often a matter of debate in the rabbinic schools. In Judaism there was a kind of double tendency. There was the tendency to expand the law limitlessly into hundreds and thousands of rules and regulations. But there was also the tendency to try to gather up the law into one sentence, one general statement which would be a compendium of its whole message. Hillel was once asked by a proselyte to instruct him in the whole law while he stood on one leg. Hillel’s answer was, “What thou hatest for thyself, do not to thy neighbour. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.” Akiba had already said, “`Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’–this is the greatest, general principle in the law.” Simon the Righteous had said, “On three things stands the world–on the law, on the worship, and on works of love.”

Sammlai had taught that Moses received 613 precepts on Mount Sinai, 365 according to the days of the sun year, and 248 according to the generations of men. David reduced the 613 to 11 in Ps.15.

Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent? who shall dwell on thy holy hill?

  1. He who walks blamelessly. 2. And does what is right. 3. And speaks truth from his heart. 4. Who does not slander with his tongue. 5. And does no evil to his friend. 6. Nor takes up a reproach against his neighbour. 7. In whose eyes a reprobate is despised. 8. But who honours those who fear the Lord. 9. Who swears to his own heart and does not change. 10. Who does not put out his money at interest. 11. And does not take a bribe against the innocent.

Isaiah reduced them to 6. (Isa.33:15.)

  1. He who walks righteously. 2. And speaks uprightly. 3. Who despises the gain of oppressions. 4. Who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe. 5. Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed. 6. And shuts his eyes from looking upon evil. He shall dwell on high.

Micah reduced the 6 to 3. (Mic.6:8.)

He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee? 1. To do justice. 2. To love kindness. 3. To walk humbly with your God.

Once again Isaiah brought the 3 down to 2. (Isa.56:1.)

  1. Keep justice. 2. Do righteousness.

Finally Habakkuk reduced them all to one. (Hab.2:4.)

The righteous shall live by his faith.

It can be seen that rabbinic ingenuity did try to contract as well as to expand the law. There were really two schools of thought. There were those who believed that there were lighter and weightier matters of the law, that there were great principles which were all-important to grasp. As Augustine later said, “Love God–and do what you like.” But there were others who were much against this, who held that every smallest principle was equally binding and that to try to distinguish between their relative importance was highly dangerous. The expert who asked Jesus this question was asking about something which was a living issue in Jewish thought and discussion.

For answer Jesus took two great commandments and put them together.

(i) “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” That single sentence is the real creed of Judaism (Deut.6:4). It had three uses. It is called the Shema. Shema is the imperative of the Hebrew verb to hear (compare HSN8085), and it is so called from the first word in the sentence.

(a) It was the sentence with which the service of the synagogue always began and still begins. The full Shema is Deut.6:4-9, Deut.11:13-21, Num.15:37-41. It is the declaration that God is the only God, the foundation of Jewish monotheism.

(b) The three passages of the Shema were contained in the phylacteries (Matt.23:5), little leather boxes which the devout Jew wore on his forehead and on his wrist when he was at prayer. As he prayed he reminded himself of his creed. His warrant for wearing phylacteries he found in Deut.6:8.

(c) The Shema was contained in a little cylindrical box called the Mezuzah (compare HSN4201) which was and still is affixed to the door of every Jewish house and the door of every room within it, to remind the Jew of God in his going out and his coming in.

When Jesus quoted this sentence as the first commandment, every devout Jew would agree with him.

(ii) “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” That is a quotation from Lev.19:18. Jesus did one thing with it. In its original context it has to do with a man’s fellow Jew. It would not have included the Gentile, whom it was quite permissible to hate. But Jesus quoted it without qualification and without limiting boundaries. He took an old law and fined it with a new meaning.

The new thing that Jesus did was to put these two commandments together. No rabbi had ever done that before. There is only one suggestion of connection previously. Round about 100 B.C. there was composed a series of tractates called The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, in which an unknown writer put into the mouths of the patriarchs some very fine teaching. In The Testament of Issachar (5: 2) we read:

“Love the Lord and love your neighbour, Have compassion on the poor and weak.”

In the same testament (7: 6) we read:

“I loved the Lord, Likewise also every man with my whole heart.”

In The Testament of Dan (5: 3) we read:

“Love the Lord through all your life, And one another with a true heart”

But no one until Jesus put the two commandments together and made them one. Religion to him was loving God and loving men. He would have said that the only way in which a man can prove that he loves God is by showing that he loves men.

The scribe willingly accepted this, and went on to say that such a love was better than all sacrifices. In that he was in line with the highest thought of his people. Long, long ago Samuel had said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1Sam.15:22.) Hosea had heard God say, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice.” (Hos.6:6.)

But it is always easy to let ritual take the place of love. It is always easy to let worship become a matter of the Church building instead of a matter of the whole life. The priest and the levite could pass by the wounded traveller because they were eager to get on with the ritual of the temple. This scribe had risen beyond his contemporaries and that is why he found himself in sympathy with Jesus.

There must have been a look of love in Jesus’ eyes, and a look of appeal as he said to him, “You have gone so far. Will you not come further and accept my way of things? Then you will be a true citizen of the Kingdom.”

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MARK

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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