And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
This was Jesus’s response when a tricky trickster tried to trick him by asking what the greatest commandment was. I’m sure that many of you have probably heard this verse before and many of you have done approximately six popsicle stick and construction paper Sunday School craft projects centered on this verse.
Christians talk about this verse so often and it becomes kind of like when you have to write or type a word over and over again and then it loses meaning, and you’re all like, “Is this how you spell armpit? Is armpit even a real word? Because now I’m starting to doubt myself….Who am I?”
I’m going to do that now, just to remember what it feels like.
cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese cheese
Sorry. I give up. Cheese will always make sense to me.
Anyway, Mark 12:30 is one of those verses that is so widely read and talked about and taught and drilled into us that I think we can easily lose sight of its’ meaning. It’s like your mom nagging you to clean your room a bazillion times a day and you eventually learn to tune her out. You understand the nature of the request, but you’ve heard it so many times that it’s become routine, ignorable.(Sidenote: My mom is not, nor ever has been, a ‘nagger’. I’m just trying to relate to you people. I love you, mom.)
Your pastor says it and everyone collectively rolls their eyes and says, “GEEZ, we KNOW already. Move it along, sir.” We think Mark 12:30 is kid stuff and we’re super cool over here with our dispensationalism and our Calvinism and all our other -isms. But here’s the thing.
That verse is DEEP. That verse is LEGIT.
With that in mind, go back and read that verse. Read it again and again until it sinks in. But not so much that it stops making sense to you.
Do you understand the words that are coming out of Jesus’s mouth? Guys, do you hear what He is asking?
Tricky Trickster was trying to get Jesus to say that one of the Jewish laws (i.e. following the Sabbath, not lusting after your neighbor’s wife, not eating meat and milk together, wearing clothing made of mixed fibers, etc.) was bigger and more imprtant than another. Tricky Trickster wanted Jesus to pick one tiny, miniscule little detail and say that was the thing that mattered most to God.
Jesus is smarter than that though. Jesus took 613 commandments- 613 regulations that God gave the messed up Israelites to follow so they could be called “His people”; 613 regulations that should have governed their every waking moment- and He boiled them all down into a simple statement. He gave us the essence of the Law. Here it is:
God wants it all. He wants everything. All of us. Every little nook and cranny of our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our soul. Every thought, every word, every second, every dime, every breath.
Jesus basically said that all of that other stuff is negotiable. If you can follow this one commandment, then you don’t need to worry about anything else because you’ll be doing all that God ever really wanted from you in the first place.
Here’s the ironic part, though. Even though we think this verse is kids stuff and we know already and we just want everyone to move on to something more advanced, we are terrible at it. You see, this is all that God asks of us, but, instead of giving Him everything, we decide to just give Him a part of ourselves and then supplement our religious duty with other things.
“Well, God, I will give you a few minutes out of my day, which I know could be more, but WAIT! I’ll drag myself to church on Sunday and volunteer at the food bank and be nice to the idiot who works next to me. There. Aren’t you proud of me? Am I good enough yet?”
In a sense, we create our own “law” by constructing this list of things that we think will make us “good enough”. If we can just do the things on this list, then God won’t be mad at us and we’ll make it to heaven when we die.
IRONY. The Israelites did this same thing. You see, Mark 12:30 is actually Jesus quoting a verse from Deuteronomy 6, right after God has given Moses all these regulations. Even way back yonder, God said, “Since you guys are dumb-dumbs, here’s a list of things that I like and things that I hate but, for simplicity’s sake, what I really want is to be the most important thing in your life.” God said, “Love me with your whole being” all the way back at the very beginning. But the Israelites, in their humanness, took the laws and regulations and made them more important than the whole “giving God everyting” thing.
Just like the Israelites, we’ve learned to ignore the importance of this verse. We think that it’ll be okay if we only give God part of our lives, as long as we go to church and don’t cuss and pray occassionally.
You guys, that is not what this verse says.
The Old Testament is riddled with God’s pleas to His people; asking them to learn to put Him first; telling them that their sacrifices, their Sunday church gatherings, their cross walls, their half-hearted attempts at loving their enemies, all those things are worthless.
God gets tired of it. In Isaiah, He says:
“Quit your worship charades.
I can’t stand your trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—
meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go right on sinning.
When you put on your next prayer-performance,
I’ll be looking the other way.
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I’ll not be listening. “(Isaiah 1:13-17, the Message version)
At one point, God essentially calles the Israelites “stinky” because they ignore Him but fight about who follows the law better.
God doesn’t care about our half-hearted attempts to please Him because we aren’t really following His greatest commandment- to surrender everything that we have to Him. God doesn’t care that I go to church every Sunday or host a Bible study in my house every other Saturday or that I’m nice to people (sometimes) or that I’m adopting. He doesn’t care about any of that because it’s not what He asked for. He doesn’t want my sacrifices; He wants me.
Since I’ve been thinking about this verse this week, I’ve realized that I haven’t lived this way in a very long time. To be honest, it’s a little scary. When God asks for everything, crazy things happen and alot of “what ifs” pop into my brain.
But if I can’t do this, the most important thing that He asks of me, then nothing else that I do really matters.
So much for “kid stuff”, huh?