28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other.33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus 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 12:28-34 (NLT)
34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:34-40 (NLT)
25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”
29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10:25-29 (NLT)
The next thing you read in Luke’s account is the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is interesting to remember that the two “commandments” Jesus references are given in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:5 tells Israel to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. Leviticus 19:18 is where the Israelites are told to love their neighbors. Jesus is reminding them of what they should already know. It is implied in the Matthew and Luke accounts that the religious leaders were trying to trick him or trap him with Scripture. When he answered wisely they tried to take it further. They were willing to accept love for God and love for neighbors (God had commanded it after all) but they wanted to define exactly who their neighbors were. They had their own prejudices and God surely wasn’t telling them to love THOSE people. It was one thing to have to love others like them but to love THOSE people. Surely God didn’t mean that…did He?
I don’t think I have to tell you do I? If you know the parable of the Good Samaritan then you already realize that Jesus dropped the ultimate unwanted “truth bomb” on them. They hated the Samaritans. The Samaritans were lower than dogs. Some scholars have suggested that the whole “shaking the dust from your feet” thing you see in the New Testament may have been started by pious Jews after traveling through Samaria. Regardless of the origin, in Jesus’ time it symbolized the complete rejection of those whose dust you shook away. Jesus even told his own disciples to do the same thing to those who rejected his message. In that context it symbolized God’s judgment on those who rejected His Son.
I wish we didn’t still have to deal with racial, economic, political, and national differences. I wish we somehow understood Jesus’ commands to love God first and then love others. It seems so simple yet we know just how difficult it can be. In the Mark passage Jesus tells the man that he is not far off from the Kingdom of God. I often wonder if that guy found it? Did he continue to listen to Jesus and draw closer or did he eventually shrug off everything and go back to normal?
How many times have I gotten close to the Kingdom only to give up or give in? How many times have I seen just how simple it is but have not had the strength to continue. We all struggle with it. It’s true that some struggle more than others but don’t be fooled…we all have to fight it. As the communion meditation put it this morning…we’re all broken. We all have to remind ourselves those same two commandments. It is my prayer that we listen and we obey. It is my prayer that set our eyes on the Kingdom and keep marching forward. Perhaps we can be a light in the darkness around us.
May God our Father give you grace and peace.