Two Commandments = One.
Mark 12: 28 – 34; 1 John 4: 7 – 21
Can Christianity be reduced to a simple principle?
The 1961 musical, the Carnival, told us that ‘love makes the world go round’. The popular song has been sung by Perry Como, Deon Jackson, Paul Anka, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna to name a few. But they were really singing about romantic love. Whatever we mean by this word ‘love’ it has something to do with its root meaning: a strong feeling of affection whether sexual or platonic; for things or for people.
He who loves not, lives not. Ramón Lull
Love is the key to the entire therapeutic program of the modern psychiatric hospital.
Karl A Menninger.
Last week we focused on faith as one of the key components of our humanity. This week it is love. Our reading from Mark shows Jesus being questioned by a Scribe. Jesus had already responded to the Sadducees with their questions on tax and the resurrection, which were designed to trap him [Mk 12: 13,14,18]. Jesus’ wise answers silenced the Sadducees. A Scribe observing Jesus’ artful responses comes up and asks, ‘which is the first commandment?’ Jesus answers with the Shema and the first and second commandments.
The Shema is the Hebrew for ‘hear, O Israel’. It is the call to the people to hear God. Each day a devout religious Jew will recite the Shema and the first commandment. It is found in Deuteronomy 6 and it is followed by the Great commandment.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
There is no doubt that the Shema and the Commandment to love God is of paramount importance to the Hebrew people. It was so important to keep in mind that God is One and that Israel was to love God that the people were to have these words before their eyes as they moved about. Some took to literally wearing on their heads and arms small leather boxes containing these Scripture passages.
Now the verb ‘to love’ used in Deuteronomy is a personal word that is used for family relationships. It evokes the sense of desiring God and enjoying God. Loving God involves the whole of one’s being –
one’s heart: the seat of emotions;
one’s soul: the core of one’s being; and
with all our strength: the essence of our will.
The verb ‘to love’ implies an intimacy. The language used speaks of an inter-personal relationship. It is a profoundly awesome statement, because we are commanded to enter an intimate relationship with this awesome creator God. This level of intimacy is made clear just a few verses later in Deuteronomy 7 where we read in verse 7.
It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors.
How … how amazing is that? God the Creator loved them and chose them for a special task. That’s extraordinary! That’s the incredible part of our faith, not that God exists. They were to love God because God loved them first and made a covenant to bless them so they would be a blessing to others [Gen 12: 3]. The 1st Letter of John 4:19 says exactly same thing – we love because he first loved us.
Jesus has answered this Scribe with an answer that goes to the very root of the Jewish faith – God is One and we must love God with all of our being. But Jesus adds the second great commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Did you know that this command is only mentioned once in the whole of the OT in Leviticus 19:18. The ‘neighbour’ referred to their fellow Jews and all aliens in the land. It is a social law governing the prohibition on killing, adultery, and stealing [Deut 5: 17-19]. It formed the basis for trading honestly [Deut 25: 13-16]. And it underpinned all rules and laws that addressed the poor, the marginalised and the exploited so that they would treat each other with dignity [Lev 19: 9-16]. The Scribe sees the truth of Jesus’ teaching and he earns the affirmative comment from Jesus; “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Here we have a window into the heart of God and the intimacy between seeker and God. It is a truly beautiful picture of Jesus and the Scribe – a moment of truth where common minds met.
We will understand more if we understand the background. The Scribes were interpreters of the Law of God both the written and oral law. The Sadducees were did not accept the oral law neither did they believe in the resurrection of the dead. Scribes and Sadducees were not on the same page. Now in the Scribal schools of interpretation there were two approaches to the Law of God. On the one hand there were Scribes who wanted to expand the Law to encompass all aspects of life to ensure obedience to God. On the other there were Scribes seeking to simplify the Law. Some kept expanding the Law and others wanted to reduce the Law. Jesus clearly wants to reduce the Law too.
There is a story of a proselyte coming to the great Rabbi Hillel and asking him to teach him the whole law while he stood on one leg. Hillel answered, “What you hate for yourself do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”
Simon the Righteous had said, “On three things stands the world – on the law, on the worship and on works of love”.
Sammlai had taught that Moses received 613 rules on Mount Sinai
David came and reduced the 613 to 11 in Psalm 15.
Isaiah reduced the 11 to 6 in Isaiah 33:15.
Micah reduced the 6 to 3 in Micah 6:8.
Isaiah again reduced the 3 to 2 in Isaiah 66:1.
Habakkuk reduced them all to one – The just shall live by faith [Hab 2:4].
Augustine much later said, “Love God and do what you like”.
Jesus was the first who put the two Great commandments together – Love God and love your neighbour. This was the religion Jesus taught – love God and love others.
The story of Two Brothers helps us understand how we might live out this commandment.
“Two brothers worked together on a family farm. One was unmarried and the other married with children. They shared equally the fruit of their labour – produce and profit. But one day the single brother said to himself, You know, it’s not right that we should share the produce equally, and the profit too. After all, I’m all alone, just by myself and my needs are simple. But there is my poor brother with a wife and all those children.
So in the middle of the night he took a sack of grain from his bin, crept over the field between their houses and dumped it into his brother’s bin.
Meanwhile, unknown to him, his brother had the same thought. He said to himself, It is not right that we should share produce and profit equally. After all, I am married; I have my wife to look after me and my children for years to come. But my brother has no one, and no one to take care of his future.
So he too, in the middle of the night, began taking a sack of grain from his bin and sneaking across the field to deposit it in his brother’s bin.
And both were puzzled for years as to why their supply did not dwindle. Well, one night it just so happened that they both set out for each other’s barn at the same time. In the dark they bumped into each other carrying their sacks. Each was startled, but then it slowly dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another.
Suddenly the dark sky lit up and a voice from heaven spoke, “Here at last is the place where I will build my Temple. For where brothers meet in love, there my Presence shall dwell.”
Every time we love another with compassion and selflessness we create another building block for God’s future world.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC: 28/10/2018