The Season after Pentecost: Proper 26, Year B

The Love Commandments

  • Ruth 1:1-8
  • Psalm 146
  • Hebrews 9:211-14
  • Mark 12:28-34

In the Gospel for today, Jesus is asked a question that seems truly sincere: “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mark 12:28b). While establishing which was the “greatest” among the 613 precepts of the Law was a commonly debated topic among Jewish rabbis, this interrogator seems genuinely interested in hearing what Jesus has to say.

Jesus answers by combining the Shema, the central creed of Jewish monotheism (Deuteronomy 6:4) with a commandment from Leviticus that calls for love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). Every devout Jew knew and used the Shema, which began worship in the synagogue and was written and rolled up in small leather boxes, worn on foreheads and wrists (Exodus 13:1-10, Matthew 23:5).

Jesus’ unique combination of love for God and neighbor shows that the two naturally reflect one another. Love for God is primary, but it will always result in a love for others. The scribe’s response to Jesus’ teaching shows an intense love for God and a wise understanding of God’s priorities.

In our Old Testament we hear the story of Ruth, probably set in the time of the judges (1200-1029 BCE). Ruth is one of four women named in the genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel (1:5), and is an example of courage and trust in God’s providence from one who was outside the covenant community. Ruth’s words are remarkable not only for the beauty of the language and the depth of her loyalty, but also for her declaration of covenant fidelity to God: “Your people shall be my people, your God my God” (v. 16b) as well as her love for Naomi, her mother-in-law. It is a story of love and obedience with her heart, soul, and mind.

It is the nature of God that evokes love from one’s being. That is not an easy thing, as we must love ourselves as loved by God before we can offer our neighbors that same love. One aspect of love is self-respect – being people who revere others as children of God and thus do not cheat or take unfair advantage of anyone. It means being in full relationship with God, being a partner in the covenant that God has promised us.

For reflection:

  • What are some ways that you can love God with all your heart? with all your understanding? with all your strength?
  • How would you define love, used here as an active verb?
  • How is active love present in the story of Ruth today?
  • Jesus gives the scribe two commandments instead of one. Why is the second commandment necessary to complete the first?
  • Define love for your neighbor. With twenty-first century technology, we come into contact with masses of people daily from around the world. Who is your neighbor today? Can we realistically love them all? Why or why not?
  • What is the relationship between our love for our neighbor and our love for God?

About Sharon Ely Pearson

Wife, mom, grandmother; author, educator, consultant; trying to make a difference one action at a time. Christian formation has been my vocation for 40+ years - and counting!
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