WelCom November 2018:
28 One of the scribes who had listened to them debating appreciated that Jesus had given a good answer and put a further question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ 29 Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’
32 The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true, that he is one and there is no other. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice.’
34 Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.
Loving God and Loving our Neighbour
Fr Joe Grayland
Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, 30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’
Jesus’ teaching on the double command to love in Mark 12:28-34 sets a high theological and ethical bar. It reflects the biblical conviction that the Father of Jesus ‘is one and there is no other’. In this way, monotheism is preserved. Jesus’ command to love God and neighbour summarises the ethic of the Torah and provides Christians with their ground-ethic of love as a theological truth to be lived in practical ways. Our love of God is our response to God’s prior love for us, and it is through our worship, service and self-giving that we grow in grace and spiritual maturity.
The novelty in Jesus’ response to the Scribe is that he, Jesus, puts the two commandments to love, together. By placing these together, Jesus goes to the root of all the commandments of the Torah and he provides both a guide to knowing who God is, and to what it means to do God’s will. For the Christian community this double command has a potentially deeper meaning: it enables them to live as a believing monotheistic community in a world of polytheistic religions. The Father is one and love of God and love of neighbour are one and this is more valuable than holocausts and sacrifices.
Mark’s version of events is marked by the friendliness of the interchange between the Scribe and Jesus. In both Luke (10:25-28) and Matthew’s (22:34-40) accounts the question is posed in a legalistic framework by a person who uses the question as a test of Jesus’ orthodoxy or position. In Mark’s account Jesus and the Scribe enter into a friendly dialogue with each other as they begin to discuss the radical nature of the Kingdom of God as a gift to be received with openness and entered into with joy. The dialogue sets the scene for our interpretation of the command to love.
Dialogue calls for collaboration between peoples for which language is the servant of meaning. The words need to convey truth. Dialogue creates and sustains relationships of meaning. Dialogue embodies the willingness of each participant to understand the issue from the other person’s perspective and dialogue enables people, who are in communication with each other, to make good decisions. A decision to say yes to love is as powerful as the decision to say no to love.
Because the command to love is dialogical it can only exist between people capable of dialogue.
Dialogue requires the ability to listen; to hear the voice of God and the voice of the neighbour. Where the law to love is based on honest and open dialogue it becomes salvific. Love-in-dialogue responds out of a place of fundamental respect for the other. The command to love the neighbour, as one loves the deity, draws love beyond the personal decision to the level of a moral or ethical demand.
Consequently, the two commands to love are not blended into each other. They are kept separate so that both the Father and the neighbour may be loved equally. This ensures that we understand there are two directions, or actions, of love and it stops us substituting one love for another.