Gospel of Mark 12: 28-31 (NIV)
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Holy Week, the most solemn week of the Christian calendar, is here. We prepare for next Friday’s commemoration, on Passover Eve, of the crucifixion of God incarnate.
For people of some Christian traditions the week itself is a liturgy, commencing with the Liturgy of the Palms on the preceding Sunday and reaching its culmination with Easter Day – rejoicing, perhaps early in the morning, with a celebration of the “new light”.
For our Lord, the week was even more eventful. Beginning with his “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem riding a colt, it included a visit to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus when Mary anointed his feet with expensive perfume, his driving the stall-holders from the temple and his daily teaching about God’s kingdom. All of that came before his final meal with his disciples, his arrest, mock trial, flogging and then his execution on the cross.
The passage above, from Mark’s Gospel, is part of his teaching during that tumultuous week. It is central to his life and to all that he taught: “Love God, love your neighbour!” It is central to the Christian’s own code of ethics and daily conduct. It is central to how Christian men and women, through speech and behaviour, are to present Jesus the Christ to the world.
Jesus was drawing on the Shema, the Jewish profession of faith: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6: 4). He was drawing on the Commandments given to Moses for the children of Israel, the first four of which focus on adoration of YHWH and only YHWH (Deuteronomy 6: 5 and Exodus 20: 2-11). He was drawing on another part of the Law, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19: 18). Even though he referred to loving one another as a “new command” (John 13: 34)*, he knew it to be an essential part of Hebrew law.
Many people today believe of themselves that they “live a good life” and that they “do unto others as they would have others do unto them”. They claim they do not need God in order to be “a good person”. Perhaps they have a point. Jesus does not require that we be merely “good people”. We are to be “Godly people”, people of God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ. The most important part of that, Jesus taught, is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” There is no commandment greater. Being “good” without loving God is not enough. That is not what Jesus died for.
* John 13: 34-35:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.