The Messiah Establishes Kingdom Priorities

Theodrama 41.

As Jesus taught in the temple courts, his opponents confronted him with a series of questions. Jesus had enraged the temple authorities when he cleansed the Court of the Gentiles from merchandizers. They questioned his actions and authority. The hostile questions intended to subvert his popularity or endanger his life.

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, one scribe was impressed with how well Jesus handled the succession of questions and consequently wondered how Jesus might answer the question that rabbis discussed among themselves: “Of all the commandments, which is the first of all?” Which commandment is the most important one in the Torah?

Jesus identified two commands in the Torah as the first and second. “Love God” is the “first of all,” and the “second” is “love your neighbor.” The first comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18.

What enabled Jesus to so clearly and succinctly identify these two texts as the first and second commandments? Jesus did not read Scripture as a flat text where every command is as equally important as every other command. Rather, Jesus recognized levels of priority and importance. Some commands are more fundamental than others.

Jesus prioritized these two commands over “burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Loving God and neighbor is more important than the temple and its sacrifices. This does not mean that sacrifices are unimportant but that there are more important commands. The two greatest commands are love God and love neighbor–and we must be careful that we don’t make any other command equal in importance.

What makes one more fundamental than another? How are these two imperatives (“love God” and “love your neighbor”) more important than sacrifices? Perhaps we might see in “love God and love your neighbor” an act of sacrifice itself. We give ourselves to God (our whole body, soul and strength) and, in turn, to others. We are the sacrifices. This is more important than any ritual which expresses that devotion.

This reminds us that God loves mercy more than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6) or that what the Lord requires more than a thousand sacrificed rams is “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We are the sacrifices that God requires (cf. Psalm 40:6-8).

The context in which this exchange takes place underscores the importance of “love your neighbor.” It appears between the exploitation the money-changers practiced in the temple courts (Mark 11:15-16) and Jesus’ accusation that the wealthy temple authorities exploit widows (Mark 12:38-40). In effect, Jesus identified several practices as examples of economic or social injustice.

Given these temple practices, “love your neighbor” has added significance. It is a further judgment against the temple authorities. The scribe did not ask Jesus for the second commandment. He only inquired about what was “first of all.” Jesus volunteered the second, and the presence of social injustices are a clue as to why. When we love our neighbors, we treat each other fairly, honestly, and with equity, and we oppose all injustices.

The kingdom ethic is to love God and love our neighbor. The kingdom is rooted, grounded, and expressed in love—God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for each other.

When we love God, we love neighbor, and we love our neighbor, not because we found something worthy of love in our neighbor but because we love God. The love of God and neighbor are the priorities of the kingdom of God, and the driving energy of discipleship. Disciples of Jesus love God first of all, and also love their neighbors because they love God.

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