Unlike the other scribes who tried to trap Jesus in intellectual arguments, the scribe in this passage approaches Jesus with a willingness to learn. He comes to Jesus with an inquiring mind, stepping out of his own world of commandments and laws that were binding and restricting in their demands. This scribe seemed to sense that Jesus was something beyond just rules. He seemed to know that Jesus held the key, and he was willing to step beyond his own boundaries in order to discover what Jesus had to offer by asking him what the greatest commandments were.
In answering him, Jesus referred back to two commandments found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, joining the two. The Rabbis calculated that the Law contained 365 prohibitions and 248 Positive commands. So in essence, Jesus compressed 613 commandments into two! Jesus knew that religion was much more than keeping rules; he knew that the rules were created because of relationships. We don’t worship other gods because of our relationship with the one true God. We don’t steal because it would hurt our neighbor, with whom we have a relationship, etc. Jesus was standing before him as proof that religion was about relationships . . . first with God, then with your neighbor and finally, with yourself.
Jesus identified the greatest commandment and that is to love God with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength. This is loving God with all of our being and is a love that includes our passions, our intellect, our energy and encompasses us until it becomes our identity.
That love is then manifested in what Jesus identified as the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. The most basic part of this second commandment is to love ourselves. It is not a self-love that is egocentric or self-aggrandizing, but a self-love that recognizes the value that we have as someone created in the image of God. As we are transformed by recognition of our worth as a child of God, our response then is to share that love with our neighbor, who is also a child of God, created in His image. The word love as stated in this passage does not mean personal liking or affection, but active good will. It becomes our identity and defines our actions. Who are our neighbors? It is not only our friends and families, but also those people with whom we might not get along, or those who are different than us, or those in need across our city or our world whom we do not know, but feel responsibility toward.
These three loves are integrally interconnected. When I love God with my whole being, I begin to see myself and my neighbor as a creation of God’s love. My perspective changes and consequently, my action changes. When I love my neighbor, I have in essence, made my love of God a reality in the world. As one grows, the others deepen and expand. It becomes a perfect triangle of love, changing my world and changing the world.
The scribe realized the beauty and truth of Jesus' words, declaring that Jesus had answered well. When Jesus saw that the scribe seemed to “get it,” he responded by telling the scribe that he was very close to the Kingdom of God. When we “get” this truth in our lives, when it changes our identity and is fleshed out in our lives, then we too are very close to the Kingdom of God. It becomes alive in us, in our lives and in our world.
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