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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, November 2, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 12:28–34

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “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.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 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’; 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.” 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. (NRSV)

Are you a patient, detailed, follower of rules and regulations-type person who loves to clarify and get into the weeds? Or are you into the big picture, don’t want to dig into the details, follow the rules and get going with the plan? Jesus answers for both.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “commandments,” I’m thinking the Ten Commandments, or the two greatest commandments on which we are reflecting today. Imagine my surprise in discovering that Old Testament Law consists of 613 commandments. Since the Pharisees were devoted to strictly following each one of them, they challenged Jesus on which ones were most important. How can one possibly follow so many?

They were compelled to ask Jesus, “Which is the first commandment of all?” It appears the scribes are lawyer types, and for that one needs precise clarification. I love that Jesus brilliantly simplified all 613 commandments for the non-detailed of us.

Doesn’t it seem that if we “love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind” and we feel love of God in us, it will permeate every aspect of our being? Doesn’t it seem that being obedient to rules without heartfelt love is worthless?

Then our Lord instructs us to “Love your neighbor as yourself”: we must have love in our heart to keep the precepts of God’s law.

Personally, when I think of today’s divided, angry world, loving thy neighbor may be hard, but it is essential. It doesn’t say tolerate or only love some. How can each of us embrace all neighbors, especially those we differ from and with?

In our more familiar Ten Commandments—not the 613—the first four deal with our relationship to God; the other six deal with loving our neighbor. Aren’t the two great commandments Jesus gave us a beautiful summary for us to follow?

What could be a more elegant and simpler path to eternal love and peace?

Thank you, Jesus, for your boundless love and wisdom. Please help open our hearts each day so we feel your love within, to love you with all of our being, and then fearlessly breathe your spirit into the world. Amen.

Written by Cris Ohr, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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