We join Jesus in the temple again today. It has been one long day of confrontations for Him, but He has one last round to go with the religious leaders. This time is a little different. This time the seeker may actually be after the truth, instead of out to trap Him.
Mark tells us that one of the scribes came up and was listening in on Jesus’ debate with the Sadducees. After hearing how Jesus answered them the scribe asked a question of his own. The question he asked was “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (verse 28).
Jesus didn’t hesitate for a moment when He answered. Neither Mark nor Matthew mentions any negative feelings towards this question or questioner. I believe this scribe truly wanted to know the answer.
We looked at Jesus’ answer in detail when we came across this story in Matthew’s account. You can find that discussion under “The Greatest Commandments.” I would like to look at our questioner and his answer today.
Jesus answered him by saying, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (verses 30-31).
I believe Jesus’ answer opened the heart and mind of our scribe. I don’t know if our scribe was expecting Jesus to choose one commandment over the others, but how Jesus combined the spirit of them all into these two tied it all together for this scribe. I can almost hear his “yes, you’re right” as “WOW, how did I not see?”
This man had been living by the letter of the law his whole life. His career was spent in interpreting the law and ensuring that each portion of the law was adhered to in every way. But he had missed the spirit and love contained in the law. God gave man the law to draw him into a relationship with Him. It wasn’t an empty set of rules and regulations. It was God pouring His heart out to His children to bring them into a right relationship with Him. By following the rules He laid down, an uninterrupted relationship was maintained. Stepping outside of what God had laid down stopped that beautiful relationship. But what made that relationship really “sing” was when one maintained the rules out of love for God instead of out of legally enforced requirements. So loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength would easily cover all the requirements of the law.
God also wants all His children to get along together. He doesn’t want the squabbling or backbiting. He wants harmony in our relationships. To this end, He gave us the rest of the commandments to enforce right behavior between us. Again, He much prefers us to treat one another well out of love for our brothers and sisters rather than being forced to by the law. The last six commandments cover a lot of behavior and the root causes of much, but we still have wiggle room to abuse our brothers if we try and say we only have to follow the letter of the law. Jesus turned that letter into spirit and closed the loopholes we try to wiggle through with His summed up commandment. There is no room left to treat your brother/sister badly if you are treating them like yourself.
The comment of our scribe about following these two commandments being “much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” shows Jesus’ that he has finally seen the full truth. The burnt offerings and sacrifices were instituted as a way for Israel to allow God to cover their sins. Every time the law was broken another layer of blood was required to cover it from God’s sight. By truly living these two commandments, sacrifices were not necessary. God wants a relationship with us more than religious practices. This is what our scribe saw in Jesus’ answer.
Jesus was very impressed by the scribe’s answer. He saw the light go on and things finally falling into place for him. Jesus told him that he was not far off from the Kingdom of Heaven. He was right there; all he still lacked was believing that Jesus was Who He said He was. Did that belief soon follow this revelation knowledge? I would love to know what became of him after Jesus’ words that day. Maybe another bench question, or another person for Jesus to introduce me to when I get to Heaven.
Father God, thank You for opening the scribe’s heart. Thank You that You showed him Your real motives for giving us the law in the first place. Thank You that You loved us enough to want a relationship with us and for making a way for that to happen; both through Your law and through Jesus’ blood. Thank You that You don’t require us to live by the letter of the law any longer but have given us Your Spirit to help us maintain a right relationship with You through love instead. I do love You and don’t want anything damaging our relationship. Please help me when I do damage it to come to You right away, instead of letting the breach grow. Help me do that in my relationships with my brothers and sisters too. I know I will be forever working out our relationship, including asking for You forgiveness when I mess it up. Thank You too that You never get tired of hearing “I’m sorry” from me and washing Your hands of me. I know I need to do the same with others too. Again, I’m sorry. Please help me in this area too. Help me grow a relationships with my brothers and sisters that truly honors You.