Which Commandment Is Greatest?

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
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 neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,

and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34)

Scripture Study

12:29–31 Jesus summarizes the teaching of the entire Old Covenant in two commandments. ● The greatest is the Shema (Hebrew for “hear!”), taken from Deut 6:4–5. The Israelites considered this passage a summary or creed of their faith in the one God of the universe. The second is taken from Lev 19:18. Together these injunctions to love God and one’s neighbor underlie all 613 precepts of the Mosaic Law and especially the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:2–17; Deut 5:6–21). The distillation of Yahweh’s revealed Law into two commandments was prefigured by the two stone tablets of the Decalogue (Ex 34:1).

12:33 burnt offerings and sacrifices: The scribe recalls what is often restated in the Scriptures: the moral laws of God are superior to the sacrificial laws of the Temple (1 Sam 15:22; Jud 16:16; Ps 40:6–8; Hos 6:6; Mic 6:6–8). It is implied that drawing close to the New Covenant kingdom means backing away from the Old Covenant Temple (12:34). ● The sacrificial system as managed by the Levitical priesthood was not part of the Mosaic covenant in Ex 19–24 but was imposed upon the Israelites after they worshipped the golden calf in Ex 32. Originally, the Mosaic covenant was to consist only of the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:22; Jer 7:22) and a single sacrificial ceremony where Israelites would renounce idolatry once and for all by slaughtering the very animals they had begun to worship in Egypt (Ex 24:3–8; Ezek 20:7–8). However, the golden calf episode in Ex 32 proved that the Israelites were still attached to their idols and needed a permanent means to eradicate idolatry from the nation. Detailed legislation for priesthood and sacrifice was thus added to Mosaic covenant as Yahweh’s (temporary) solution to this predicament (Ex 25–31, 35–40; Lev 1–27).

Scripture Reflection

Friends, our Gospel for today features the Word of God himself telling us what stands at the heart of the law. A scribe posed, as a kind of game, the following question: “Which commandment is the greatest?” There were hundreds of laws in the Jewish system. So it was a favorite exercise of the rabbis to seek out the single rule that somehow clarified the whole of the law.

So Jesus gives his famous answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What does that mean? The law is finally about love, and the love of God and neighbor are inextricably bound to one another. If we love God, but hate our neighbors, we’re wasting our time.

Why are the two loves so tightly connected? Because of who Jesus is. Jesus is not just a human being, and he is not just God. He is the God-man, the one in whom divinity and humanity come together. Therefore, it’s impossible to love him as God without loving the humanity that he’s created and embraced.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.