The Greatest Commandment
Translated by Allan Liang
The Pharisees self-proclaimed to love the law of God, studying and examining it vigorously. From the Torah they summarized 613 commandments of the law, exactly corresponding to the number of letters in the Hebrew Ten Commandments. They found 248 positive laws and 365 negative laws. They then divided the laws into two categories, heavy and light. If a person broke a heavy commandment, there would be severe consequences, if a light commandment was broken, there would be lesser consequences. But which commandments were heavy and which were light? The Pharisees argued unceasingly about this. In the hearts of some Pharisees, commands that they did not want or could not obey would be regarded as light and insignificant. In response, Jesus pointed out with piercing clarity: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,...” (Mathew 5:18-19). However, other Pharisees thought the opposite. They vowed to strictly keep the law down to the smallest portions. Jesus rebuked them, saying, “you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness.” (Mathew 23:23) Jesus did not oppose the Israelites’ division of the law into the categories of light and heavy. What Jesus opposed was the deceitful heart behind the Pharisees. The Scripture we read of today perfectly illustrates that Jesus was very willing for the Israelites to know what was the greatest commandment. As a result, when a teacher of the law came to ask Jesus this question, Jesus used the most important Scripture found in the Shema (an Israelite tradition), “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ ” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) At the same time, Jesus added the second most important commandment, “the second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Leviticus 19:18). This addition by Jesus was very important. This both warned people that apart from God there is no true love (1 John 4:19), and reminded that believers cannot allow God’s love to remain spoken or limited to feelings (1 John 4:20). This makes it very clear that only if we love God (the greatest Commandment), can we love people (the consequence of obeying the greatest commandment). “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Galatians 5:14). What is surprising about this account found in Mark is that the teacher of the law did not argue with Jesus (compare with Mathew 22:34-40, Luke 10:25-28), but instead displayed acceptance, and said that these two commandments were much more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Clearly, he understood the teachings that the moral laws of the old testament were more important than the ritual laws (1 Samuel 15:22, Hosea 6:6). Jesus called his reply wise, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Dear brothers and sisters, what does this mean? This teacher of the law had knowledge regarding the law, but did not understand that the commands of the law were there to condemn him of sin, and only by the redemption of Christ on the cross can he not perish. Although he was close to the kingdom of God, yet he was unable to enter the kingdom of God, how regretful is this! Dear brothers and sisters, let us together think and reflect: Is it possible that we are like this teacher of the law, willing to learn much knowledge about the Bible, yet forgetting that all knowledge of the Bible is to help us know Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and as our God? This teacher of the law was like Nicodemous, needing a rebirth of the soul, or like the young ruler who “still lacked[ed] one thing” to do. But how blessed are we, for we have been clearly told that “the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) May all the thanks and praise be to our Lord! By faith, may the heart in us that loves God and all people be renewed and transformed day by day!