28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The Whole Point of Lent (and Life)
In today’s Scripture, we witness Jesus boiling down his purpose on earth to one thing. We get insight into what drives Jesus at the core.
Jesus is asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
One’s answer to the question “Which commandment is the most important of all?” will certainly reveal what you deem most important, what you deem the highest priority and standard in life. We should, therefore, heed Jesus’ answer.
What is Jesus’ answer? He references the great Shema from God’s covenant with Israel in Deuteronomy.
The first commandment, the absolute highest call and matter of obedience in life is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Then Jesus, unsolicited for a second command, goes on to identify the second: to love neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
In Matthew’s gospel, Matthew further explains the significance of these two commandments:
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
What’s more, Mark records Jesus using some wordplay to communicate the notion that these two commandments are inseparable, almost carrying a Trinitarian quality of multiple-in-one. Jesus says:
There is no other commandment greater than these.
The first and second commandments can be seen as one from Jesus’ statement that there is no other commandment (singular) than these (plural). They are to be taken as two distinct commandments that work together as one. If we truly love the Lord with all our heart, then we will also overflow that love for God into God’s love for our neighbour.
Pause and reflect. Let’s remember the time context of this passage. It’s Passion week. Jesus knows with crystal clarity that he is about to go to the cross to carry the burden and receive the punishment for the sins of humanity, while facing the wrath of God. How powerful is it that Jesus cites these two commandments as the greatest? How deeply motivated must Jesus have been to carry out God’s work of redemption via the tortuous cross by these two commandments!
May Lent be a time for us to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour in regards to motivation for living. We, too, are to prioritize loving God with our entire being and to love our neighbour.
Put differently, if Lent does not bring us back to loving God with all our being and loving neighbour, then something is off.
But wait… there’s one catch!
The Whole Power of Lent (and Life)
If we attempt to love God with our entire being and our neighbour the same with our own strength and willpower, we will inevitably fail. We will run dry. We will lose steam. We will grow weary.
Thanks be to God for Jesus’ divine insight and teaching in John 13:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
How is this a new commandment? On the surface, it looks and sounds the same as the second commandment. But if you examine closely, the new commandment is entirely and radically different.
The difference: Jesus adds “just as I have loved you”!
We cannot underestimate to a fault or overestimate to great praise the significance of Jesus adding “just as I have loved you.”
What is Jesus teaching? In a word, grace.
Jesus is teaching us that the power to love our neighbour will be staying in his love for us, supremely demonstrated by his taking our place on the cross for our sins.
What’s more, Jesus is also providing the power to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength here. How? Because Jesus is God! We can paraphrase Jesus saying “just as I have loved you” as “just as God has loved you.” Do you see it?
Here’s the power to love God with all our being: how can we not love Jesus and God back in light of how Jesus has loved us on the cross?
So, again, may Lent be a time for us to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour in regards to motivation for living. We, too, are to prioritize loving God with our entire being and to love our neighbour.
But now we have the power, through Christ Jesus, in how he loved us first.
“Father in heaven, open my eyes wider to how Jesus has wonderfully loved me first. And may that understanding overflow into increasingly loving you with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength. And may my love for you overflow into love for my neighbour, as you have loved me. Amen.”
Questions for Reflection (try journaling your answers):
- Have you found yourself tired or weary in loving God and neighbour at all these days? Why do you think that may be? Where is your source of strength to love God and neighbour?
- What do you think of the statement: “Here’s the power to love God with all our being: how can we not love Jesus and God back in light of how Jesus has loved us on the cross?” Is your Christian life in line with this statement?