christianity sermons

the greatest commandments

One of the scribes asked Jesus, which commandment is the first of all? And 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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 neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31). 

These two commandments of love, these are the two greatest commandments. How are we to live by them? 

To love your neighbor as yourself is one that seems straight forward, perhaps? But still, how might we implement this in our lives, especially during these times of pandemic? Loving one’s neighbor involves protecting their safety and guarding against the virus transmission. It seems to me that those who emphasize the freedom not to wear masks or to not be vaccinated are only considering their own sense of freedom rather than considering how their not wearing mask or not being vaccinated might put others at risk transmitting the coronavirus. At times what we want for ourselves is going to challenge what we know we must do to love our neighbors. And surely loving our neighbor also includes sharing what we have? If we have been fortunate to have more than enough to live on, whether it is clothes, food, or finances, we are called to share these things. To take care of the orphans and widows, the poor, and the incarcerated… 

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 

35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40). 

What we can do to the “least of these” is to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothed the naked, to take care of the sick, and to visit those in prison. Are we doing these things? And when we do these things, we are not only loving our neighbors, but also Jesus teaches us that what we do to the least of these who are members of God’s family is what we are doing also to God! If we want to love God, we must love our neighbors.

Love. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Love God. Jesus answered the question of the greatest command that the first is: ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 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.’ (Mark 12:29-30). What Jesus answered everyone, all the Jews would have recognized as the teachings in Deuteronomy:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

Notice here that loving God is not only something we do, but also what we teach our children, and to talk about them in the home and when we are away, when lying down or when we rise. It is not something we do in the quiet and secret of our hearts only.  

The Lord our God is one. Our Lord alone is our God. There is no other. If we love anything more than God, we worship that as our idol, whether it be a person, our jobs, whatever we desire, if we desire it more than we love God, we make that object, even if it is a good object, into an idol. So be aware, even the good things, if we want it so badly that we would do whatever it takes to attain it, it probably surpasses our love for God! 

We shall love the lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength. Loving with all our heart makes sense. Our heart loves with feelings. When we love, as we respond to God’s love, we feel the love for God. And to love with all our mind, which is not in Deuteronomy but in what Jesus says, all the things we think about, and how we think about them, with this capacity we also love God. We also love God with all our soul, the deep spiritual sense of our being, from deep within our soul we love God. We also love God with our strength! This means we must be strong to exercise our strength in loving God. Our work, whatever our physical capacity is, we also love God with our physical being. All that to say, we love God with every inch of our being! There isn’t a part left over that does not love God.

When Jesus answered the scribe’s question what is the greatest commandment, the scribe responds by saying that Jesus was right. 

32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32-33)

Following these two commandments is more important than sacrifices we could make. Whatever we think is the value of following rituals and religious laws, they are not as important as loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Burnt offerings and sacrifices was the way Jews had been worshipping God. It showed that they worshipped the Lord and no other. But instead of bringing of burnt offerings and sacrifices to the alter, more important is what we do when we are interacting with our neighbors and also what we do in love for God! The same is true of us. Whatever we think doing good deeds and being righteous involves, if it does not involve loving God with all of our being and loving our neighbors as ourselves, we are falling short of doing what God wants of us. God really wants our love, our hearts, our minds, our soul, our strength, the loving of God with all of our being. 

When the scribe agreed with Jesus that the most important commandment is to love, Jesus said this: 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. (Mark 12:34). 

We are not far from the kingdom of God when we love. Love is often thought of as a touchy feeling abstract mushy emotion, no? But as Christians, we know that love is not only feeling but acting: loving involves clothing, feeding, providing drink, visiting the oppressed and it involves not only the mere good warm feelings and sensations of positive feeling towards someone. It involves energy, effort, intentions, planning, and commitment and sacrifice as well. Loving God will cost us time, it will take opportunity away from doing what we want to do only for ourselves; it will involve doing things that are uncomfortable; and we might have to risk our safety and might even involve feeling restricted in what we can do. Are you willing today to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Let us pray: Lord God, you are one and you alone are our God. We love you and praise your name. Help us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Help us to understand that loving you has consequences in our lives. Help us to understand that what we do to the least of these who are members of your family is how we love you as well. Help us to respond to your love by loving you and our neighbors as ourselves. We love you. Help us God to love the least of us, the members of your family. In Jesus name we pray, Amen. 

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