“One of the teachers of religious law was standing listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus has answered well, so he asked, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Mark 12:28
I can imagine Jesus got questions like this quite often. He did a lot of teaching in parables and talking about heavenly things that are difficult to wrap our minds around. In this chapter of Mark, the Pharisees were asking Jesus all kinds of question in the hopes of him saying something so wrong that they could arrest him. However, this last question from a particular Pharisee seems more genuine. He has heard Jesus respond with wisdom and grace to all of the other questions the Pharisees used to try and catch him off guard, so this teacher of the law asks a question that is probably on the minds of many others who listened to Jesus. The answer to this question continues in Jesus’ theme of confronting conventional wisdom and commonly held beliefs not founded in the truth.
“Jesus replied, ‘the most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, 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 you mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Lord your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
As simple as this message seems, I have found it quite difficult to follow. I wonder, ‘Are you sure Jesus? Just these two commandments?’ I mean think of how the Jews present received this message, especially rule followers like the Pharisees. In Jesus’ culture, many of his listeners devoted their livelihood to memorizing the stories and laws of what we know today as the Old Testament. Each day I am sure it took not only memorization of all these laws, but also careful planning to follow them throughout each and every moment, and now Jesus is saying they can shift their focus to the two most important commandments.
However, among many other Jewish practices, these two commandments require just as much if not more careful attention because loving our God and neighbor rightly applies to the deeper calling to pay attention to the attitude of our hearts. So, it’s actually easier to focus on following specific rules already laid out for everyday tasks such as working, cleaning, worshiping, etc. rather than truly paying attention to our motives and the way we treat people throughout our daily tasks. Though following all the laws of the Old Testament may seem like a foreign concept, I find myself like the Pharisees at times where I cling to rules I have made up in my head for everyday living rather than making space for the most important commandments that call me to focus on my heart.
In fact, my sweet husband has been noticing this trend in my life as well, and has made the discovery that I too have a lot of unspoken rules! We’ve been married for just a year and seven months, so we still have cute newlywed moments, but as we get to know each other more deeply, along with the sweet feelings of acceptance and companionship, knowing someone this well can also get ugly.
So, as of recently, Drew and I have been in an interesting season of resistance toward each other. We never really fought while we were dating, so we are navigating through how to best deal with conflict together as husband and wife. Sadly, we both have a tendency to be stubborn and we bring out a competitive side in one another that we have to keep in check, or it can be disastrous.
One of my first rules had to do with my cute little tea towels many of my friends got me at my bridal shower or on my wedding day. They all had pretty delicate stitches on them and I loved hanging them cutely on the handle of the oven, just like the newlywed housewife picture in my head. Drew, on the other hand, is a clean freak. He values things being clean more than he values things looking cute. To my horror, Drew decided to use my sweet little tea towel to mop the DUSTY, African floor of our kitchen. The sweet man meant well, but I was so upset! He broke my rule! We were only had a few wedding gifts we were able to pack with us when coming to Africa and he used it TO WIPE THE FLOOR??! I found myself mourning the loss of my poor, once cute, little tea towel.
Newsflash: there is a much larger picture than my rule about which towel to use!
Although this story is a rather goofy example, my rules often bring me to the same preoccupation that I believe Jesus tried to point out to the Pharisees. I come up with ways I think my life should go, whether it’s the course of my day, my career, my future, or how my tea towels should be used, but so often I miss opportunities to love those around me, and love and acknowledge the holiness of our God.
“The teacher of religious law replied, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all the burnt offerings and sacrifices offered by the law.” Mark 12:32-33
How I long to have the same “Aha!” moment like this teacher of the law. I have been meditating on this quote from the book I have been reading with my team at work, where Peter Greer comments on passages like this where Jesus tells us the most important aspects of our lives.
“There is nothing wrong with a bigger ministry or congregation, but a fascination with such markers is toxic… Jesus defined success as loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor. The extent of our love, not numerical growth, matters most.” (pg. 76, 80 The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good)
The extent of our love, not numerical growth, matters most.
In other words, though some of my rules and the pursuits I have for my day and my life may be good, they are not the most important. I want point myself to the most important things each day rather than focusing on what I have decided I would like to accomplish. I want to sit down at the end of the day and instead of asking myself, was I successful with what I wanted to do today? I want to ask, was I successful at loving my God and the people around me today? It seems like the latter is more like what Jesus would ask me.
What is it throughout your life and throughout your day that you are striving after? Is it focused on the most important things, or something you came up with using human hands?
May we be women known by the extent of our love.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous of boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7