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Lenten Reflection: Day 25

Gospel, Mark 12:28-34

“What sort of commandment is first of all?” The word “first” meant more than the “first in order” or the “most important.” The word “first” (“protos” in Greek) also meant “guiding principle.” The “first” commandment would provide the key that would unlock the religious philosophy of Jesus, how he envisioned the relationship of people with God. However, by the time Jesus preached, the phrase had a much broader interpretation. In the first century AD, Judaism was strictly monotheistic. No other gods existed but YHWH. In this sense, the phrase could be translated “Hear Israel! YHWH is our God. YHWH is the only (God).” The translation above reflects the broader, monotheistic interpretation than that of simple national, allegiance. (See 12:32).

tissot-the-pharisees-question-jesus-744x492

Jesus answered the first part of that question with the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Love God with all your being. Love in this sense was not an inner emotion or psychological state alone. In the time and culture of Jesus, love meant allegiance. As God made a covenant with his people (a formal allegiance between a king and his subjects), he demanded a response. A commitment and a faithful life to that allegiance (i.e., covenant) was the only answer. Notice that the command was pointed at the nation and the individual. God wanted faithful individuals to form a faithful community. The individual was to take ownership of his or her response and take responsibility for the type of community he or she lived in. Taking both types of ownership was implicit in the command: “Love God.”

“You will love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18 for this command. Leviticus 19 is known as the Holiness Codes, for the name of YHWH is invoked more times in this chapter than any other place in the Torah.  Jesus backed up the Shema with another important verse: love of neighbor. This meant allegiance to one’s community. Of course, different groups could interpret this phrase in different ways. Christianity was built on charity, caring for others regardless for their background. Charity embodied the Christian interpretation of Leviticus 19:18.

Who’s on first? For most of us, the answer to the question vacillates between us and God. What can you do this week to place more of the focus on God? How can he help you to love him more and see everyone around as your equal?

– Commentary by Larry Broding

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