One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?”
Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”
The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”
When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.”
After that, no one else dared ask a question. Mark 12:28-34)
Right after watching a movie, if someone asked you what it was all about, you probably wouldn’t have too much trouble giving an answer. What if someone caught you living your life and asked you that same question?
Loving God and loving people is the theme of the entire Bible and what life is all about. But what is love? Too often for the Israelites, they imagined that God could be manipulated in the same way they manipulated everything else in life. They were nice to their neighbors who were nice to them, and they expected kindness in return. So they thought God worked the same way. Rather than understanding their sacrifices and religious rituals as an expression of their love for God, they saw them as merely payments rendered in exchange for the stuff they wanted. Rather than a relationship with God, they had a superstition.
But the sort of love that Jesus was talking about means being nice to people regardless of how they respond and giving without expecting anything back. It is the sort of love we have for our babies. We change their diapers and feed them at three in the morning, yet they never offer to mow the grass or wash the dishes. But we love them all the same.
God’s kingdom is near to those who understand the centrality of love. And far from those who don’t.