love God entirely (part 1)

In the late 1960s an angry college student confronted California’s Governor, Ronald Reagan. The student opposed Reagan’s strong response to the protest movements, which were sweeping college campuses at the time. He told the Governor, “Today we have television, jet planes, space travel, nuclear energy, and computers.” Then he asked Reagan a loaded question. “How can you possibly understand the younger generation?” Obviously, the student expected the Governor to admit that he couldn’t identify with them. Yet, Reagan outwitted the student and replied, “It’s true that we didn’t have those things when we were young. We invented them.” The student’s attempt to make a statement or to embarrass the Governor failed. Reagan wisely unloaded the question and made a greater point: college students consume what other generations create.

During the public phase of his ministry, Jesus’ opponents confronted him with loaded questions. They desperately wanted to trap Jesus into accepting their authority, asserting their politics, affirming their theology, or approving their ideals. The powerful Sanhedrin challenged Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things” (Mark 10:28)? They had not authorized him. The Pharisees and the Herodians tried to corner him, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not” (Mark 10:14)? Pharisees opposed Caesar, and Herodians supported him. The Sadducees contemptuously asked him, “At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven [dead brothers] were married to her” (Mark 10:23)? The Sadducees considered the resurrection ridiculous. And a Scribe wondered, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important” (Mark 10:28)? Scribes, after all, revered the Jewish Shema.

Jesus responded to the question regarding the greatest commandment by quoting the right source. “Hear, O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 10:29-30; cf. Deut 6:4-5). The Scribe must have wryly smiled. Jesus’ other challengers had failed, but he had succeeded. Jesus quoted the Shema, but then he went further. He disarmed the Scribe’s question by connecting two commands: Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 10:31; cf. Lev 19:18). The Scribe probably did not expect a two-part answer. Not to be undermined like the others, he thought quickly, and formulated a response. He affirmed Jesus’ answer, and he included an addendum about love’s superiority to offerings and sacrifices. Sadly, however, the Scribe rejected Jesus’ point: Loving God entirely cannot be separated from loving people inclusively. The Scribes used their commitment to the Shema as an excuse to exclude themselves from other classes of people. They had reduced the Shema to heartless formalism.

It’s tempting to criticize the Scribe and to question his response. How can he listen to Jesus and remain outside the kingdom (Mark 10:34)? Why doesn’t he admit that Jesus called his bluff? Why can’t he accept Jesus as his Lord (Mark 10:35-37)?  Doesn’t he realize that he failed to love God entirely? Isn’t he aware that he doesn’t love his neighbor? All of these questions, as natural as they are, reveal something at work in our hearts. Specifically, we sinners hastily identify sin in other people and reluctantly admit our own sins. Love for God and other people are easily eclipsed by our relentless self-love.

Jesus’ love for the Scribe compels him to speak truth. That same love exposes our hearts so that we can receive God’s grace, making us gracious people. What then are some areas where modern Christians like you and me struggle with pride akin to the Scribe’s? In part 2 I will offer some specific applications that confront our self-love. Are you ready for some loaded questions?

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