Summary: How do the two greatest commandments sum up the law and the Prophets

Stiffkey/ Saxlingham 02-11-03

Stiffkey/ Saxlingham 02-11-03

Mk. 12:28-34: “The Greatest Commandments”

Every time we hold a communion service, we read these very familiar words

Our Lord Jesus Christ said: The first commandment is this:

“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. 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 neighbour as yourself. On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Story: Dr. Robert Seizer, in his book Mortal Lessons: Notes in the Art of Surgery tells this story. He has just removed a tumour from a young woman’s face, but sadly had to cut a facial nerve in the process leaving her mouth permanently distorted. This is what he says:

“ Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?

The young woman speaks: “Will my mouth always be like this? “ she asks. “Yes” I say, “it will be. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it” he says, ”It is kind of cute”. All at once I know who he is.

I understand and lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with God. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I, so close, can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show that their kiss still works. (A Box Of Delights J. John and Mark Stibbe p. 108)

What a tender love that husband showed to his wife.

And love is the subject of our Gospel reading this morning.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus a question:

Teacher which commandment in the law is the greatest?

And Jesus replied:

“Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind.

The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

There is no other commandments greater than these” (Mk 12:29-31)

Many people think that Jesus invented these two commandments but he didn’t. You can find them in the Old Testament.

The first is found in the book of Deuteronomy

“Hear O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deut 6: 4- 5)

and the second is found in the book of Leviticus

“ Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 19:18)

Jesus’ genius was in linking the two commandments together.

Interestingly the Jews had 613 different commandments in the Old Testament– most of which were “do’s and don’t’s”.

These two commandments, which Jesus chose as the greatest have to do with the heart – to do with our attitude to God and to our neighbour.

You can’t legislate for love. You can’t enforce the commandment to love in a Court of Law –as you can the commandment not to murder or to steal.

Love is not quantifiable on the penal code.

Love has to do with grace – it is something special. The Bible describes the love of God as Agape.

God’s Agape Love is a love that loves regardless of how the person responds. It is something that you cannot earn. It is freely given and does not depend on the worthiness of the recipient.

St Paul put it like this:

“But God demonstrated his love towards us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8)

It is a love that calls us to “love our enemies”.

It took me many years to appreciate that love was an essential part of the Christian gospel. I used to think “love” was soppy and sentimental and just for girls. But it isn’t.

Love can be very masculine as well. Love caused Jesus to die on the Cross in our place – for our sins, because there was no other way for us to be reconciled to God.

St .Paul recognised the responsibility to love when he said: “Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law”. (Rom 8:10b)

Story: When I was in Switzerland, I was involved in running a church among the refuges there.

Each Saturday, we would go into the camp and invite them to our Sunday morning service. And on Sunday we would drive over and take those who wanted to come -to church.

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