top of page

Mark 12:28-34

Lesson Focus: We are to love God with all we are. We are to love ourselves well and appropriately so that we might love others in the same way.

Lesson Outcomes: Through this, lesson students should:

  1. Be encouraged to love God with all that we are.

  2. Be encouraged to love our neighbors as ourselves.

  3. Understand that we love and care for ourselves so that we might love and care for others.

Catch up on the Story When we last saw Jesus and his companions, they were on their way into Jerusalem. This will be the last time that Jesus travels to Israel’s capital before his crucifixion. All along the journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus has tried to prepare his friends for what he will soon experience. The disciples are a little slow, with Peter going so far as to rebuke Jesus for his talk of death.

Now, however, Jesus and his followers have entered Jerusalem to some significant fanfare. Even though the crowds love him when he first enters the city, Jesus’ time in Jerusalem will not be easy. The Temple will prove to be a place of conflict and angst. On more than one occasion, members of the Jewish religious leadership will question Jesus in an attempt to entrap him. The antagonism will be fierce, but Jesus remains strong, constantly offering up wise responses.

In this week’s story, Mark tells us one more story of Jesus being questioned. The questioner is still one of the Jewish religious leaders, but as we will see, he comes with a genuine sense of curiosity and likely a predisposition to like Jesus.

The First Commandment In the previous few chapters, Jesus has remained the center around which the narrative has circled. Repeatedly, Jesus is confronted by a questioner who generally wishes to catch Jesus in saying something heretical. In this week’s passage, Jesus is once more approached and asked a question. Mark tells us that the current questioner is a scribe, a man concerned with Jewish faith and matters of Law. Unlike those who have previously questioned Jesus, this scribe seems to be asking a genuine question aimed at discerning Jesus’ take on the Jewish faith.

It was not uncommon for rabbi’s of the day to be asked to summarize their understanding of the Jewish Law. In this way, the essential “thrust and flavor of a rabbi’s mind and teaching” would be ascertained.[1]. The scribe’s question, “Which commandment is the first of all?” is not odd as well, and questions like this one were not first asked of Jesus. Famously, when the rabbi Hillel was asked by a Gentile to summarize the entire Law while the man stood on only one foot, Hillel replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to others, the rest is commentary.”[2]

As the quote from the rabbi Hillel attests, the general gist of Jesus’ answer is not unique either. When we look a bit closer, however, we will find some rich insights into precisely what Jesus believes is essential for those who claim to follow him.

The First Commandment The question the scribe puts to Jesus only asks for one commandment, but Jesus responds with two. “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’

In giving his answer, Jesus will quote from relevant sections of the Pentateuch. Not surprisingly, Jesus goes straight to Deuteronomy 6:4-5. It appears only in Mark’s gospel that Jesus quotes the opening to what is known as the Shema. The Shema occupies an important place in Jewish Law as it is itself a summary of the Law God gave to Israel after the exodus.

It may seem mere formality that Jesus quotes the opening lines and doesn’t jump right into the actual command to love God, but it is not. Aside from being a command to listen up, the first line is a confession of Israel’s understanding of God’s nature. The confession is that Israel’s God, Yahweh, is the only and true God. There is only one God, and Yahweh is his name. He is above all and over all. This contrasts with the nations that surrounded Israel, which often had a pantheon of gods who constantly fought for supremacy.

Using the first line of the Shema confessing God’s oneness, Jesus establishes himself as fully orthodox, even as he claims to be God. Jesus understands and wants us to know that he is God and that God’s unity remains.

Jesus slightly modifies Israel’s greatest command. The original form of the command in Deuteronomy 6:5 says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your souls, and with all your might.” In addition to our hearts, souls, and might (strength as he puts it), we are also to love God with our minds. No part of our being is left behind while we seek to worship and love God.

There’s a nasty strain within the Protestant church in America that disdains good education and well thought out theological and biblical study. We have been created with a tremendous ability to think and to reason. Our minds are gifts from God and should be put to good use in our quest to love God fully. Having faith doesn’t mean you have to leave your brain behind.

The Second Commandment Without skipping a beat, Jesus launches into what he believes is the second greatest commandment, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” While the first commandment comes from Deuteronomy, this second commandment comes from everyone’s favorite Old Testament book, Leviticus. Specifically, the quotation comes from Leviticus 19:18.

The idea of loving yourself can be a bit tricky. Somewhere along the line growing up, I picked up the notion that if I was happy and content, then I was not truly following God. Put differently, I understood that if you weren’t suffering, you weren’t following Jesus correctly. To a certain degree, I know where this comes from. The way of Jesus, the way of the cross, does often lead to self-sacrifice and suffering.

I don’t think I’m the only one of my generation to understand the Christian life this way. More than once, I’ve heard people echo similar sentiments. But here we have Jesus saying that we are to love others as we love ourselves. This implies that we love ourselves. Or, at the very least, care for our well-being.

“Self-care” has