This is such a famous passage. What is the most important commandment? Jesus says: ‘love God; and love neighbour as yourself’. We know it well.
But if it is as simple as that, why then does Jesus say to the scribe ‘Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him “You are not far from the kingdom of God”….
Not far but not in……
And, although the scribes wisdom is worthy of praise verse 34, a miss, as they say, is as good as a mile. Good but no cigar!
The scribe thinks that he has come for some intellectual engagement with a leading rabbi, but what he gets is discernment as to where he is on his own spiritual journey. And its not very far. Not far enough. This is in contrast with the thief on the cross, who Jesus says in Luke 23:43 ‘truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise’.
Its not surprising that we read in verse 34: ’And then no-one dared ask him any questions’
You see, it can be relatively easy to know what God wants for our lives, from reading scripture, as this scribe did. But actually loving God, actually loving neighbour is a wholly different thing.
How can we love God? How can we love our neighbour? It seems quite difficult to love God.
To some God seems like an abstraction. How can we love an abstraction?
To some he seems like a cruel ogre, someone to whom we must submit regardless of the circumstances, who has never experienced what we have been through. Or sometimes our image of God is tied up with our memory of our own fathers; with their strengths and weaknesses.
And how can we love someone that we don’t know? How can we know the creator of the universe?
Well, we can know him. We can love him. We can know him, although of course He is, to some extent, mysterious and unknowable.
We can know him through what he has revealed of himself In Jesus Christ: If we know Jesus, we know the Father; that Jesus who experienced all the pain and suffering that we experience in life and showed us how to love God and neighbour. We can know Jesus Christ through our encounters with him in the Bible.
But most of all, to get to know him as our Father, to know him as ‘Abba Father’ with the sweet intimacy of a relationship between father and son or daughter, we do, as Jesus said to Nicodemus, another teacher of the law, in John 3:1-21: need to be born again, born again of water (as in baptism), but also of the Spirit.
To know the Father, we need to be born again as his son or his daughter.
It is not enough to know about him.
As we are open (or broken) to Jesus by being willing to open our hearts to him, we will encounter the Holy Spirit and be born again. And we will start to see God working in our lives and when we do its not difficult to love him and in loving him we find loving neighbour easy: we just want to do it. Its a walk in the park….
The First Commandment
(Mt 22:34–40; Lk 10:25–28)
28 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?” 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.”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.” 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.