Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34
A Lawyer Finally Gets It
Matthew says “lawyer” while Mark says “scribe”; the terms were synonymous. At any rate, this man was different from the others who were asking Jesus questions, because his heart was in the right place. He saw that Jesus “answered them well” and thought to ask him a far more important question, a real question, not some ridiculous question based on a most improbable case, nor to catch him in some word game, nor get Jesus into trouble with the authorities. Instead, this man asked an honest question and wanted to hear Jesus’ answer.
So the lawyer simply asks, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” I have to believe that Jesus was glad to hear a sincere question that went to the very heart of the Scriptures. So Jesus answers, and he begins by quoting what were considered then and now the most important words of the Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is called the Shema, a prayer which derives its name from the first word, “shema,” which means, “hear” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). And then Jesus adds, “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.”
I feel it necessary to highlight that the prayer recorded in Deuteronomy which Jesus quotes begins with the Lord being one. After all, you can repeat the part about loving God without the first part about God being one, and most do. But that is to misquote Scripture. In other words, loving the Lord with all your heart is predicated upon knowing Him, specifically, that He is one. This reminds us that when we pray, we must know the One to whom we are praying. John spent his entire Gospel showing that Jesus revealed the Father to us, and Jesus did so to make the Father known (John 1:18). Then Jesus adds, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). I have heard people abuse this passage saying that it teaches us to love ourselves. No. It assumes that we love ourselves because we are the sinful creatures that we are. God uses our selfishness to teach us to love others as we naturally love ourselves. Then Jesus adds, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
When the lawyer sincerely concurs, Jesus tells him that he is not far from the Kingdom of God. Entrance into the Kingdom is based upon knowing God through Christ, loving God through Christ, and loving others through Christ. On this depends the law, the prophets, the Christian faith, and our lives.