“Which commandment is the first of all?” Mark 12:28
As we ask the questions in Herbie O’Discoll’s hymn “Who are we?” we come to the lines,
“What command does Christ impart to us his people?
Soul and strength and mind and heart, serve me my people”.
The question “What command does Christ impart?” is first asked by one of the scribes . We read in Saint Mark Chapter 12 Verse 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?’”
Jesus answers the question with words from the Jewish prayer, the Shema, he says to the scribe, in Verse 29, “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 words are paraphrased by Herbie O’Driscoll in the line, “Soul and strength and mind and heart, serve me my people”. Jesus immediately adds that there is a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
What command does Christ impart? To love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
What does it mean to love God? It means worship of him. Worship is about worth-ship, about worthiness, about giving something its worth; worship is about giving God his worth all of the time. Worship is not just about church services, it is about meeting with God and giving him the worthship he is due, each day of the week. We may find that attending services in church are occasions where we meet with God, but that does not mean God is not met elsewhere. It is challenging to think that every day should be part of our worship.
What does it mean to love God? It means giving him thanks; something often completely forgotten. We readily pray when something has gone wrong, when we are upset, when we feel there is no-one else to whom we can turn, but when all is well, when we are happy and healthy, when we are coping ourselves, we can quickly forget God.
What does it mean to love God? It means trusting him. In our own lives, how often are we really asked to put our whole trust in Jesus? How often do we call upon him as our first response to the things we encounter?
What does it mean to love God? It means our worship, and thanksgiving and trust bring him honour. Honour and service go together, each should lead to the other; our desire to honour God should lead us to serve him and our service to him should bring him honour. Jesus is critical of those whose honour is only a matter of religious observance.
What command does Christ impart? “You shall love the Lord your God, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” If we really did love others as we love ourselves, then the world would be a very different place.
What does it mean to love our neighbour? In Saint Luke Chapter 6 Verse 31, Jesus says,”Do to others as you would have them do to you.” The words have become known in popular culture as the “Golden Rule”. Even among people who are not religious, Jesus’ words make sense: neighbourliness, friendship, love, are built up by our taking the initiative. The First Letter of John Chapter 4 Verse 19 says, “We love because he first loved us”. God’s love for us inspires our love; so our prayer should be that our love for our neighbour will inspire a similar love from them.
What does it mean to love our neighbour? It means respect for for authority. Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans Chapter 13. In Verse 1 of that chapter Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God”. Paul believed the imperial authorities represented God’s will; the Roman Empire had unpleasant features but it was a much better place to live than other places at the time and much better than the authorities that would take its place when it fell. We all know that where there is no authority, there is chaos and the poorest and the weakest suffer most.
What does it mean to love our neighbour? It means being careful in what we say and in what we do. Hurt can be caused by neglect, by not bothering, as well as by anything we might say or do. In Genesis Chapter 4 Verse 9, we read, “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘ do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?'” We are our brother’s keeper; we have a duty, even if we don’t like it.
What does it mean to love our neighbour? It means being careful not just about what we say or do, but also about what we think. The First Letter of John Chapter 3 Verse 15 warns its readers, “All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them”. It is hard teaching; the way to avoid such an accusation is to be true and just, as the Letter to the Ephesians Chapter 4 Verse 15 says, “speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”.
What does it mean to love our neighbour? It means treating them fairly in all we speak or do or say. It means being honest with them and being honest about them. Telling stories of which we are uncertain, speculating about how things might be, passing on tales we have heard, each of them are false witness. Jesus teaches, in Saint Matthew Chapter 5 Verse 37, that we are to speak the plain truth, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one”. Gossip comes from the evil one; there is a thought to make us think about what we think and what we say.
“What command does Christ impart to us his people?
Soul and strength and mind and heart, serve me my people.”
Doing everything in our life as something done for God, serving Christ in all we do, whatever it may be – remembering whose we are and whom we serve, in those ways we will fulfil our duty to God and our duty to our neighbour, we fulfil the command Christ imparts.
The first commandment 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 neighbour as yourself.”