Commentary on Mark 12:28-34
Not all the Pharisees and Scribes were hostile to Jesus. We have Nicodemus as one very good example. And here today we have a scribe who approaches Jesus with no apparently hostile motive. He had seen how well Jesus had dealt with the challenges put to him by various groups. He now comes to ask a question which was much debated among scholars.
There were more than 600 commandments in the Jewish Law and it was often asked which of these had priority over the others. Unusual for him, Jesus immediately answers the man’s question. Was this because, unlike on other occasions, it was asked with politeness and respect and was a genuine request for an opinion?
In answering the question Jesus does not give just one commandment but two:
- Love your God with your whole heart and soul
- Love your neighbour as yourself.
Both answers are taken from the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 respectively) and so satisfy his questioner’s request. However, as we read through the New Testament and especially the words of Jesus in the Gospel, we know that Jesus gives his own twist to these two commandments.
First, in answering a question about which is the most important commandment, he gives two commandments which, in his view, are quite inseparable; one cannot be kept without the other. We cannot say we love God and then refuse to love our neighbour. He will make two other refinements. He will extend the meaning of ‘neighbour’ to include every single person and not just the people of one’s own race, religion or family (cf . Luke 10:30-37).
And he will set as the standard of love not just the love we are able to show but the depth of love which he will show by dying for us (John 15:13) .
The scribe is very pleased with the answer that Jesus gives and expresses full agreement. “In that case,” Jesus replies, “you are not far from the kingdom of God.” That is to say, the scribe is very close to having the spirit of the Gospel and to the following of Jesus. He still has to make the crucial step of committing himself to follow Jesus and become actively involved in the work of the Kingdom.
Whether he took that step or not we will never know. However, we can make our choice to start today or renew our commitment to keep this double commandment and to reflect on how well we put them together.