Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jesus' teaching on Loving God and your neighbor

Mark 12:28 "One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?”

In the course of Jesus' teaching ministry, three sections of scripture are marked by the designation "Great".  The first "Great" passage is what is termed "The Great Commandment", found in Matthew 22:37-39 and Mark 12:28-34 and of which will be the focus of today's blog.  The second is what I call the "Great Concern" and deals with Christ's great concern over having a church that is Greatly concerned about holiness and love for one another in Matthew 18.   The third "Great Passage" is referred as the Great Commission is is found in varying formats in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16; Luke 24 and Acts 1:8-11.   

Jesus quotes two passages in his summary of the Great Commandments
Mark's version of Jesus teaching on the Great Commandments is the fullest treatment we have.  In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus quotes the most beloved verses in the section of the Old Testament called the Pentateuch or Torah (i.e Genesis through Deuteronomy). The first Great Command is a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 "“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." This verse, called by the Jews "The Great Shema" (due to the Hebrew word "Shema", the word translated "hear" in 6:4). For the Jews, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 represented the most important duty of their lives.

The second verse Jesus quotes in Mark 12:31 is found in Leviticus 19:18 ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD."

Jesus' Summary of the Greatest Commandments: Loving God and your neighbor
The context of the above discussion between Jesus and this scribe takes place two days before the crucifixion.  The question asked has to do with what Jesus considers to be the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses.  The scribe was a person in those days who copied down the Hebrew scriptures.  As an expert in the language and text of the Old Testament (particularly the first five books of Genesis through Deuteronomy, called the Pentatech), scribes were also fond of legal matters and discussing the finer points of Jewish Tradition.  Much ink and hours of conversation had been invested by the various schools of Jewish thought on this matter of classifying the many dozens of Jewish laws. 

As only Jesus can do, He summarizes the entire body of Mosaic Legislation under two main headings: Love the Lord your God and Love your Neighbor.  Under these headings we can note that the two tablets containing the ten commandments, handed down to Moses from God, could be summarized by these two great commands.  The first four commandments deal with the first great commandment of "Loving the Lord your God".  Then the remaining six commandments have to do with the second great commandment of "loving your neighbor".  We can see this traced out below:

"Love the Lord your God" (Mark 12:28-30, 32-34)
1. "You shall not have any other Gods"
2. "You shall not make for yourself any idols"
3. "You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain"
4. "You shall honor the Sabbath Day"

Exodus 19-20 records the original communication of the ten commandments, with Moses repeating and teaching them to the second generation of Israelites in Deuteronomy 5-6.  In either of these places you will find the first four commandments above, as well as the remaining six commandments listed below under the heading of "Love your Neighbor":

"Love your Neighbor" (Mark 12:31)
5. "Honor your father and mother"
6. "You shall not murder"
7. "You shall not commit adultery"
8. "You shall not steal"
9. "You shall not lie, or bear false witness"
10. "You shall not covet your neighbor's goods, wife nor possession"

Again like the first four commandments, the last six are also found in Exodus 19-20 and Deuteronomy 5-6.  Romans 13:9 tells us about some of these final commandments as summarizing the second Great command to "love your neighbor": "this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

Where did this idea of summarizing the ten commandments come from? Jesus of course!  In the span of one conversation, Jesus masterfully tells this scribe that the entirety of the Law is summarized and fulfilled under these two headings of "loving God" and "loving your neighbor".

Conclusion: Jesus gives us two categories under which we can live the daily Christian life
Today's blog was designed to get the reader introduced to what Jesus had to say about the Great Commandments of loving God and your neighbor.  Over the next couple of blogs I would like to trace out more specific implications about ways in which we can practice both.  For now I want the reader to think about every action and decision as having to do with how we love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and how we love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31).  Both of these Great Commandments are so interrelated that to exclude one is to exclude both.  For example, 1 John 4:7-21 argues that if I fail to love my brother as I should, then I fail to demonstrate true love for God Himself.  More tomorrow.....   

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