One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, 'He is One and there is no other than he.' And 'to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions. ~ Mark 12:28-34
In the above reading we encounter a scribe, a teacher of the law, who asks Jesus: “What commandment is the first of all?” It is unclear from the text what motivated the scribe to ask this question. Was he testing Jesus? Or, trying to engage him in a discussion or a debate? It is unclear. But, what we do know is that the Jewish religion of the day had many, many rules. And, folks were deemed “holy” or “impure” based upon how well they kept these rules. We aren’t taking simply about “living within the limits.” No, the emphasis was on perfection – perfectly following the letter of the law, in elaborate detail, in every situation, regardless of the circumstances. And, there were many, many rules! In that day and time, being educated primarily meant learning to read well enough to read the law. A really well educated person could read the law, understand the rules, and teach others the rules.
In his response, Jesus cut through all the minutia about laws and rules. He set aside the nonessential discussions and debates that we all get into from time to time about our priorities and plans. He said, in the end, only two things matter: Loving God with all of our heart, mind and soul; and loving our neighbor as ourself. Jesus sifts through all of the peripheral details and gets right to the heart of the matter. Life is about love. What matters is love. What leads us to a life worth living is love.
Now, we have to clarify one thing. Jesus was not talking about love the way our culture tends to talk about love. This is not about a superficial, “feel good” kind of love. It is not about a short term, self centered kind of love that focuses on me, and mine. Jesus was not saying that what matters is that I am loved, or that I experience that warm fuzzy feeling that we often associate with love. No, this is about other centered love that focuses on the needs of others. This is about discerning what is in the long term best interests of others, and then committing our time, energy and resources to help bring that about — even if it is inconvenient or burdensome for us. In this passage Jesus talked about loving God, and our neighbors. What really matters, most of all, is love. Not short term, self serving love. No, what really matters is long term, other serving love. Loving God with all of our hearts; loving our neighbor as ourselves.
This passage is not an idle academic discussion or a legal side bar debate. From time to time we might hear someone ask, or we might ask, fundamental human questions such as: Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence? What is the meaning of life? How am I to live? These questions are at times raised by thoughtful people of all religious and philosophical backgrounds; from the most conservative to the most liberal; Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and atheists. Jesus addresses these fundamental questions by saying that, in the end, what really matters is love — not money, or social status or power. What really matters is loving the Divine with our entire being, and loving those around us as we would want to be loved. Regardless of one’s circumstances, this is the path to a meaningful life, a deeply fulfilling life, a life truly worth living. This is the path to a peace which the world cannot give. And, we are invited to walk this path, to embrace the overarching value of selfless love, and to give expression to it in our daily lives. The truly remarkable, and simple, thing is that if we all lived in this way, our lives would indeed be more fulfilling, less stressful, and more peace filled.
Our invitation today is simply to reflect on love in our lives. How are we loving? Are we walking along a path which leads to fulfillment, peace, and unity? Are we living life in a way that really matters?