040914Mark 12:28–44—The most important commandment

28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the discussion. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” 32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbors as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”
34 Realizing this man’s understanding, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions. 35 Later, as Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple, he asked, “Why do the teachers of religious law claim that the Messiah will be the son of David? 36 For David himself, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,

Sit in honor at my right hand

until I humble your enemies beneath your feet.’

37 Since David himself called him Lord, how can he be his son at the same time?” And the crowd listened to him with great interest. 38 Here are some of the other things he taught them at this time: “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they love to parade in flowing robes and to have everyone bow to them as they walk in the marketplaces.
39 And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. 40 But they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property, and then, to cover up the kind of people they really are, they make long prayers in public. Because of this, their punishment will be the greater.” 41 Jesus went over to the collection box in the Temple and sat and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two pennies. 43 He called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you, this poor widow has given more than all the others have given. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

Points of Interest:

  • ‘He realized that Jesus had answered well’—here is a religious leader who is not trying to trap Jesus. He is better soil than the other leaders who either don’t understand Jesus’ words or respond by hating him all the more. He has actually been listening, and wants to hear more. The question he asks is probably not because he is completely ignorant of the answer. This teacher would think about this question all the time, and he would has his own opinion. But he’s interested in what Jesus would say, and he invites Jesus to dialogue with him.
  • ‘Hear, O Israel . . . ’—the first of the 10 Commandments. It can be found in the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5. The teacher asks Jesus about the most important commandment, but Jesus responds with the top two. He’s accepting the teacher’s invitation to dialogue and continuing the conversation. He’s also giving the man more words in response to his good soil. The first commandment is kind of easy pickin’s: it would be no surprise that the first of the 10 Commandments would be pretty important. The second one Jesus mentions shows a little more insight. It’s actually a little more obscure than one might think: it’s tucked away in a long list of commandments in Leviticus 19: 18. But Jesus sees that that command ably summarizes what all of those other commandments are about.
  • ‘Realizing this man’s understanding’—The man adds a little insight of his own: that these two commandments to love are more important than the offerings and sacrifices at the temple. Jesus is impressed that a religious teacher who works in the temple would have the clarity to see that love is more important than the offerings and sacrifices which are the temple’s main business. Unlike the Sadducees, this man knows the scripture. He isn’t just familiar with the words, but he understands what they mean. He can see that if you add up all the sacrifices ever given in the temple, they aren’t as important as love. Meanwhile, the other temple leaders are trying to kill Jesus—we could safely say that is not love—in order to protect the illicit profits they make from the sacrifices.
  • ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’—despite all of his insight, this scribe is only ‘not far’ from the kingdom of God. Somewhat reminiscent of the rich man who did all the neighbor-related commandments, this teacher still lacks something. Perhaps what he lacks is the experience of loving God. He knows that loving God is important, but he discusses it abstractedly. It’s just a matter of knowledge and understanding to him. His knowledge, insightful though it is, is not enough. He actually needs to step beyond his intellectual understanding into actual loving God and his neighbors with his life. Perhaps this man knows the scripture, but he doesn’t really know yet the power of God to make an actual difference in his life.
  • Why do the teachers of religious law claim that the Messiah will be the son of David?’—David was the greatest king of all Israel, and his reign (which was about a thousand years before Jesus) was the golden age of the Jews. The teachers were presenting the Messiah’s reign as a sort of return to that golden age. The Messiah would be like David’s ‘chip off the old block.’ He’d make things almost as good—perhaps even as good—as they were under David. The Messiah’s greatness would be a sort of inheritance from David. Jesus points out here that David himself (in Psalm 110) expected the Messiah to be greater than David. David was only a little preview of the Messiah, not the standard to which the Messiah would be compared. The golden age of David was nothing in light of the coming Kingdom of the Messiah. No wonder the crowds are excited.
  • how they love the seats of honor’—In yesterday’s passage, Jesus told the teachers to give to God what belongs to God. Here we see that instead of leading people toward God they are leading people toward themselves: they take the honor for themselves, as well as stealing people’s money.
  • this poor widow has given more than all the others have given’—Jesus doesn’t look at the absolute value of the gift. On a percentage basis, the widow gives much more than her wealthier fellows. Most of them would have given ten percent, but she gives 100. The impressiveness goes beyond mere percentages, though. She could have given just one of her coins and still given 50% of what she had—5 times the percentage of the others. But she gives both coins. When she gives both coins, she is giving God what belongs to God: she’s putting her life in God’s hands. She is giving herself to God, and trusting him to provide for her.
  • In discussing the rich man who went away sad (ch. 10:31, April 3), Jesus says, ‘But many who seem to be important now will be the least important then, and those who are considered least here will be the greatest then.’ Here we see a prime example: this widow is able to do what the rich man could not—give everything—, and she is honored by Jesus. She is the greatest because she knows and acts on the teacher’s insight from earlier in the passage: that loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength is more important than sacrifices and offerings. God does not need the money that all the wealthier people are giving, but he wants people’s hearts and lives. That’s what the widow offers when she gives her last coins.
  • Jesus went to the temple expecting prayer and worship. Instead, he found robbery and hypocrisy. The teacher of the law comes close to genuine worship, but finally with this woman Jesus finds one example of what the temple should have been filled with.

Taking it Home:

  • For you: The Jews were hoping that the Messiah would be able to restore the kingdom of David, but Jesus told them to expect much more. What do you hope that Jesus’ kingdom will measure up to? What is your definition of the good life? Ask Jesus to expand your expectations.
  • For your 6: What do your 6 already know about God? Are they acting on what they know? Encourage your 6 to step forward in what they know. Ask God to give them the faith they need to do it, and ask him to meet them when they step forward in faith.
  • For our church: The religious teachers looked good, but there were all sorts of hypocrisy and wickedness beneath the surface. Ask the Holy Spirit to give us pure hearts of genuine worship of God and love for others.