One of the thing I love as a high school teacher is students who, after some consideration, ask questions. Not the "how long does this essay have to be" questions, but the deeper philosophical questions about the literature and its relevance to their lives. Even better is when they make connections between classic literature and their own spiritual walk---something that will impact them for life.
Jesus apparently liked thoughtful questions, too. He rebuffed the religious leaders because he knew their motives, but when one of the religious lawyers heard him debating in the temple area, he asked a question that must have made Jesus smile. Jesus had been debating with the Sadducees, who did not believe in an afterlife (which is what made then sad, you see?--sorry couldn't resist.) They had asked him about marriage in heaven (which they didn't believe in anyway), and Jesus basically told them that a) heaven is not about who is married to whom and b) God is the God of the living, not the dead...so what difference does it make?
One of the Pharisees (the teachers of the law) liked the way Jesus answered the Sadducee. Part of his appreciation was probably in the fact that the Pharisees and Sadducees didn't like each other much. However, the question this particular religious lawyer asked next also came from a heart that was really seeking after God's truth. So he asked Jesus, "Of all the commandments, which one is the most important?"
Wow. Great question. Keep in mind, that, beyond the original ten commandments, tradition had added a plethora of other laws, dictates, statutes, and requirements. This man, whose job it was to uphold the whole law, wanted the core principle. How many times do I focus on all the extraneous stuff and forget to examine the most important thing? Too many times to count.
So, what did Jesus say? Is it sacrifices? Family loyalty? Being a good person? Nope. Not one of these. Jesus pulled everything into a succinct statement:
"The most important one is this: '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.' The second is this" 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31)
The Pharisee had obviously thought long and hard about the issue, because his response was a pretty enthusiastic "That's what I've been saying!" (Okay, not in those words, but he did agree that to love God and to love others is more important that ALL offerings and sacrifices.) Jesus not only gave the man a nod of approval, but told him that he was very near to understanding the kingdom of God.
It's really as simple as that: Love God with everything you are and then show His love to those around you. That is all it takes to be in the center of God's plan. It's so simple---and yet so hard to do. To love God with EVERYTHING requires an end to ego, an end to pride, an end to selfishness and all that goes along with stubborn human nature. To make it even harder, once we are completely emptied of ourselves, we then turn around and shower others with the love and grace and compassion and mercy of God. It's a simple idea, but cannot be mastered in this lifetime.
What a tremendous challenge for a culture that values the superficial over the substance. How much more, then, must I rely on God's grace and mercy to give me the strength to give up for His glory. May I faithfully walk in a manner worthy of His calling, and , like the wise Pharisee, stay close to the kingdom of God.