Love God, Love Neighbor

Friends today is a very familiar passage, a classic, maybe even timeless. For those of you who are visual thinkers I want you to think for a moment on an image that comes up for you when you think of something that is “classic” “timeless”.  One image that comes to my mind is my grandmothers molasses cookies. A family recipe that is simple and classic.  I wonder what image may connect to that concept for you.  

I heard a commentator say if their was a record of Jesus’s greatest hits – this would be on it.  Many of us probably memorized this verse as children, and I know I for one have seen more than one children’s song (actions included) teaching our youngest to love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.  

I have a keychain I got from high school graduation that says on one side “love god” and on the other “love neighbor”.  

This story is found in each of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  As each gospel has their own context and audience, each time this story is told different elements are highlighted.  Let us dive deeper into what’s been happening in the gospel of Mark to place this conversation a bit.  

We have been traveling with Mark to Jerusalem for awhile now in the lectionary.  Along the way we have heard teachings about sin, seen Jesus call the children to him, heard the disciple quabble about who was best, and witness miracles such as the healing of the blind.  In Chapter 12 today Jesus has made it into Jerusalem.  He has already has his triumphant entry (chapter 11), in this gospel on a colt, cleansed the Temple by turning over tables, and is now teaching in the Temple.  There are many in the crowd – I imagine there are some who have joined Jesus along his journey to Jerusalem, but the author here keeps addressing some of the Temple leaders – scribes, pharisees, and sadducees.  

As Jesus began to teach these religious leaders asked “whose authority do you teach by?” But Jesus answered them with a question – pointing out to them that they weren’t really interested in what he was saying.  As Jesus continues to teach in parables he subtly addresses the misdeeds of the religious leaders, making them angry – yet they feared the crowd therefore they tried to trap Jesus with questions about paying taxes and who a woman who had had multiple husbands would be married to in the resurrection.  

It is then that in this very public debate, a scribe comes up to Jesus and asks this this question about the greatest commandment.  When Jesus answers with the Shema – nothing new, or groundbreaking, but another classic teaching foundation in faith – the scribe tells him he is right. and then it is this scribe, who has been hearing the questions and traps the leaders have been throwing at Jesus who says that it is this love that is more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices.  

Let’s note that they are in Jerusalem, at the Temple – the very epi center for pilgrims and travelers to come, spend their money on these offerings and sacrifices.  

Jesus then addressed the scribe, noting that he is not far from the kingdom.  I understand this to mean that Jesus is praising the scribe for knowing that it is not in our sacrifices or religious practices that we come closest to God – it is in our actions of loving God and loving neighbor.  Knowing this is the first step – not far.  Next comes living it.  

Our world is both very different from that of Jesus’s and yet not so very different.  We can’t simply take scripture out of it’s context and right into our lives without doing the work we just did to dig deeper and hear what the larger story is.  

Just as Jesus in the gospel of Mark took a journey to Jersalem, each of us take journey’s in our lives.  Sometimes it is clear where we are going, and along the way we have interactions that help us to grow.  The journey of education can be like this – when we, or our children are young – going through each grade from kindergarten through middle and high school we journey on.  In college or the college of life experience – we continue on a journey towards a vocation, in the best of ways – hopefully a path that leads us to living a purposeful life.  

Our personal lives, our families, our friends, are also a part of this journey.  They travel with us, working beside us, giving us strenth and comfort.  In the best sense, communities of faith help provide for each of us this kind of strength, love, and relational connections on our journey.  

There are highlights on our journey’s – when everything goes well.  For Jesus, last week we heard a highlight when heard Bartimaeus yelling, called him near instead of ignoring him, truely asked and heard his need, and healed him.  

And then their are pitfalls and trials.  We don’t know always know why, or where they come from.  Sometimes these difficult times have no explaination – we encounter horrible tragedies, communal or personal – maybe a physical sickness.  Sometimes these struggles are the result of human systems that privilege few and oppress many.  

So many of us come to the church seeking God in the midst of our journies.  Maybe today you are in a good place, maybe you are in a trial.  As we come together just as the crowd did that day, many of us are asking like that scribe – what is the most important thing we should know?  

Love God with all our heart, our soul, and our mind – brothers and sister this is a timeless, classic message – the Shema from duteronmoney 6.  We are to seek God, to ask the tough questions with our minds – to be active in our faith.  

and Jesus adds – and to love our neighbor as ourself –

These are the most important things.  Probably also the most difficult. To love our neighbor – all of our neighbors on our journey.  Jesus expands this in other teachings reminding us that this means especially those who our culture at large doesn’t love.

We have heard this before.  Like the scribe who asked the question, we know that this is God’s way.  

Now, it is our task to take that knowledge and to live it on our journey.  

Beloved, know though the good news of Jesus’s life and teachings – God’s love gives us the strength to continue on our journey of loving God and loving neighbor.  

As we come to this place not to “do church” but to worship our creator, our teacher, and our guide, we can lean on God’s grace – we can come to this table often to be fed, and we go with the strength of God to shine in the darkness.


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