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The two greatest commands

During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, he was almost daily teaching people, usually in the temple. One day in particular seems to have been very busy as one group after another came to Jesus with questions they considered to be either difficult or with no answer, in an attempt to trap him in what he was saying.

First came the Pharisees and Herodians. These two groups were opposed to each other politically, with the Herodians supporting Rome and the Pharisees opposing Rome. Yet they put their differences aside to attack their common enemy: Jesus. They asked a question about paying taxes which Jesus skilfully answered, to their amazement (Mark 12:13-17).

Next came the Sadducees who asked a question about the resurrection, something they did not even believe in. Again, Jesus answered the question, showing the Sadducees were wrong in their understanding of scripture (Mark 12:18-27).

Finally one of the scribes came up and asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28 NET). This seems to have been something that the scholars continually debated. Possibly there was the idea that if they could define the most important one, then there were others that could possibly be ignored.

Without hesitation Jesus answered, “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’” (Mark 12:29-30). But he didn’t stop there, he kept going: “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).

When you think about it, if a Jew were to keep these two commands, he would be fulfilling all the commands of the Law of Moses. If he truly loved God with his entire being, then all those commands concerning God would be carried out. And if he loved his neighbor as himself, he would be fulfilling the laws concerning getting along with those around him.

Have you ever thought about what it means to love your neighbor as yourself? Obviously it means to do for your neighbor those things you would like done to you, but it is more than that. How do we love ourselves? Do we hold grudges against our self  when we do something wrong? Do we refuse to speak to our self when we commit a sin? Or do we usually, after feeling some guilt, easily forgive ourselves and get on with life? If we are honest, we would have to admit that most of the time we are not as strict or harsh on ourselves as we are with other people.

And isn’t that Jesus’ point? If we love others, we need to treat them with the same respect, patience and forgiveness that we automatically give ourselves. Which means we can’t hold grudges or refuse to get along with them. We need to treat them as we treat ourselves.

That may seem to be a tall order – and it is! But Jesus actually calls for our love to be even greater than this: we are to love others as he has loved us (John 13:34-35). Now that is a tall order!

The bottom line: if we are to follow Jesus we need to learn to love each other.

Readings for next week:
25 April – Mark 13
26 April – Mark 14:1-31
27 April – Mark 14:32-72
28 April – Mark 15:1-20
29 April – Mark 15:21-47

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Jon Galloway

After graduating from Freed-Hardeman College and teaching school for three years, as well as preaching for small congregations in West Tennessee, Jon & Arlene moved back to her home of Glasgow, Scotland. Since 1985 Jon has been involved in evangelistic work in the Glasgow area, currently serving the congregation in East Kilbride. They have three grown children. Besides writing 'Bible Bytes', Jon is also one of the editors of the "Christian Worker," a news magazine for congregations in the UK, and is a teacher and governor for the British Bible School.

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