My scripture today is from Mark 12: 28-34 Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He has cursed the fig tree, cleared the temple, and had his authority questioned. It is now Tuesday of his last week and he is teaching in the Temple. It had been a day of intense debate, a war of wits and words with the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Herodians. They have been trying to trap Jesus, asking him what appear to be honest, straightforward questions. But most of the questions were like asking a man if he’s still stealing from the offering plate. It’s a no win question. But it really wasn’t much of a contest, these folks questioning Jesus. As any debate, this had attracted a sizable number of spectators. One of those spectators was a scribe. Scribes appear throughout this Gospel but, except for this story, appear in a negative light. This scribe, a happy exception, comes to Jesus because he sees that Jesus has answered his opponents well. The Sadducees have just tried to stump Jesus with a question about the resurrection, in which they do not believe (12:18-27). There is a good possibility that this scribe is a Pharisee, and Pharisees do believe in the resurrection. If he is a Pharisee, he must be pleased to see Jesus best the Sadducees on that question. So he asks, "Which commandment is the first of all?" It doesn’t appear that he is trying to trap Jesus. This seems to be a sincere question. "Which commandment is the first of all?" sounds like maybe he is asking for the most important commandment, but it is possible that he wanted a deeper response. Maybe he was looking for the commandment that would help him to understand all other commandments. Maybe he was looking for the commandment that would point his life in the right direction. Maybe he’s looking for the commandment that would tell him in a nutshell all that he needs to know. Now, you need to know that scribes were experts in the Jewish religious law. The scribes copied the Scriptures by hand, and actually counted the letters on the page to make sure nothing was left out. They were also responsible to copy and know the commentaries on the law. So here is a person who has great knowledge of and is intimately familiar with God’s law. He has copied it by hand over and over. He has memorized it. He has read and copied what other people had to say about it. And he comes to Jesus and asks, "What’s the bottom line? Out of all of these Laws, what is the number 1, most important thing?” And Jesus gives him both of the most important #1 things. He says, “Hear, O Israel! the Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” These TWO are the greatest commandment. Jesus is telling the scribe AND US that if you love God then you must love your neighbor, too. They go together like peanut butter and jelly, like sunrise and sunset. Loving God comes first, then love for your neighbor will follow. Of course, I can sense the questions in your minds. “What do you mean by love?” and the question posed to Jesus in the good Samaritan story, “Who is my neighbor”? Historically, "neighbor", as referred to in Leviticus 19:18, specifically meant "the sons of your own people." But Jesus had expanded the definition of "neighbor" far beyond those borders.
-- Our neighbor is the person who lives next door.
-- Our neighbor is the person with whom we work.
-- Our neighbor is the person sitting beside us in the pew.
-- Our neighbor is our child -- and our child’s friend.
-- Our neighbor is the hungry person that we pass on the street.
-- Our neighbor is the earthquake victim in Peru who needs a blanket.
-- Our neighbor is the Christian in Africa who is trying to honor Christ in the midst of persecution.
We don’t get to choose our neighbor; we must take the neighbor that God sends us. And we must love them as ourselves. We are all God’s children and nothing will please God more than seeing us help another one of his children – our neighbor. How do we “love our neighbor”? On one level that may mean mowing a sick neighbor’s lawn -- or driving a car for Meals on Wheels. On another level, it might mean contributing money to feed the hungry, provide food and clothing….and Christmas for children around the world, or working with Habitat for Humanity to build housing for the homeless. On a still larger scale, it might mean influencing public policy to help needy people get on their feet or insuring accountability of politicians and corporations. We must love our neighbor. But, just as we often have to do in the adult Sunday School class, we need to define the word before we can answer the question. So, what is “love”? Well, I did some checking and found that Love has been defined as "a many splendored thing," "is blind," "a rose," as a thing that "the world needs now”, “the tie that binds”, “a single soul inhabiting two bodies”, “makes the world go round”, and “never having to say you’re sorry. A group of four-through eight-year-olds were asked: “What does love mean?” Their answers vary from the amusing to the profound.
* Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.
* Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.
* Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.
* When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.
* Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Tom Cruise.
* Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.
I think those are some good definitions of love.
So we are to love our neighbor. But to love our neighbor, Jesus said that we are first to love the Lord our God. Without a love for God, we will never go on to love our neighbor. But it doesn’t say to just love God, but love him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and with all our strength. This isn’t a halfway deal. All means ALL. When you love someone with “all your heart”, you think about them all of the time. You long to be with them. They are the priority in your life. We call this being "in love" and it is wonderful. New Christians experience that kind of pure devotion for Jesus. The Scripture calls it our "first love." When they meet Jesus for the first time, the thrill of getting to know Him consumes them. They experience His unconditional love and acceptance. And we never have to forfeit that first love. Scripture calls us to constantly and continually love Him with all our heart. We are not only to love God with all our heart, we are to love Him with “all your soul." To love God with all our soul means that our love for God ought to be full of passion. And we are all people of passion. While we may try to deny our emotions, our emotions have a way of rising to the surface in spite of all our efforts to hide them. Unfortunately, our culture is growing more cynical every day. People are disillusioned and have become apathetic. The word apathetic literally means "without passion." I remember a Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown was talking to Lucy. He remarked about the tragedy of so much apathy in the world today. Lucy responded, "Yeah, it’s terrible. But who cares?" We can’t afford to be apathetic about our love for God. We must be excited about our relationship with Jesus. We must be passionate. We are to love the Lord our God with “all your mind." This is a love that is thoroughly considered. A mind committed to God will become a mind into which God will pour His wisdom and His knowledge. Think about it: we have a relationship with the God who has all wisdom and all knowledge and he wants to share it with us. Finally, we are to love Him with "all your strength." Christianity is not just a heart dedicated to God, a soul full of passionate love for Jesus, and a mind committed to thoroughly consider the whole word of God. To love God with all our strength means to love God in all that we do. We need to know that loving God is impossible without loving our neighbors. 1 John 4:21 reads, “Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” In Matthew 25:40 we read, “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” The second command then becomes an explanation of how the first command is put into practice. This love of neighbor is what makes the Christian faith the most powerful force in the world. And God wants more than half-hearted attempts. God calls us to love, with ALL of our hearts, ALL of our souls, ALL of our mind, and ALL of our strength. God gave HIS all and he wants our all. And ALL means ALL.