In Mark we read how Jesus told parables against the religious leaders, with the result “they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people” (12:12). After this, “some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians” tried “to trap him in his talk” (verse 13) with a question about whether “it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar” (verse 14). Imagine the tension building.

The Sadducees, who do not believe in resurrection, challenge him and he tells them they “know neither the scriptures not the power of God” (verse 24). It is a surprise that in this atmosphere one individual scribe (verse 28) comes to Jesus with a positive question about the most important commandment. He is told, “The most important is, ‘Hear O Israel; The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And 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’” (verses 30,31). This scribe agrees and Jesus commends him saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Jesus is calling individuals, and we need to approach him as individuals. When a true and wonderful relationship starts to happen, then it is natural, indeed important, that we associate with others of like mind and so increase one another’s strength. Another lesson is the nature of the love that is expressed in this most important commandment – it is expressed from four perspectives to illustrate the totality of commitment God is looking for. For some, it is easy to say to others, even to the point of glibness, “I love you”! The lesson here is that it is folly to have this spirit toward God. Anything less than a total commitment means we are “far from the kingdom of God”.