Which is the greatest commandment? The one about adultery or killing maybe? Perhaps it’s one of the laws listed in Leviticus? In Mark 12:28-34 we find out.
One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
‘Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind,
and with all your strength.’
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
‘He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself’
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
This is among my favorite scriptures from the Gospels and I note it often. Why? Because in it Jesus sets our priorities for us and at the same time throttles many of our unjust judgments against others.
Some who call themselves Christians rail against those who break the “lesser” of the commandments, yet fail to show them love. Some who call themselves Christians go to great lengths to call out others for breaking specific laws set out for the Israelites, though they may break others themselves, yet fail to show them love.
Jesus Himself never condemns those who break God’s commandments. He calls them to Himself and through their faith saves them. He forgives them and upon His cross He redeems them. Given the opportunity to stone the adulterous woman, He refuses and sends her on her way, forgiven. It is the repentant and those of faith who are healed and saved, but in every case, Jesus refuses to condemn; He loves them. I suspect He even loves those who do not repent, though they may not reach the Kingdom of God.
Who does Jesus save His wrath for? Those who are self-righteous, publicly pious, who set impossible standards for others to observe yet in secret do not observe themselves, and those who defile the temple — the hypocrites and cheaters. Those who seem to love themselves and their power over others more than they love God or others.
Curiously, when I hear others use scripture to call out others – sinners – I never hear them quote this passage of scripture. I never hear their call to love. I hear only judgment, condemnation, and I hear a lot of call for ridicule or stoning or killing. And clearly that is not what Jesus Himself ever intended.
Jesus calls us as Christians to love. He tells us elsewhere in scripture not to judge and if we are ourselves sinners (we all are!) not to “stone” (in other words, condemn or take any other punitive action against) others. Being a minister or preacher or priest or preacher-wannabe doesn’t give someone license to break ranks with Jesus on this one.
If we are to live in a better world, if we are to leave this world for the Kingdom of God, then we need to obey Jesus’ command to love God and to love one another. Jesus Himself said, “There is no commandment greater than these.”