The word love appears more than any other word in this passage, we hear Jesus tell us to love God, with all of our heart and soul and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. The Scribe then repeats Jesus commandments, recognising that Jesus has answered his question well he adds that to love God is more important than bringing offerings and making sacrifices.
Jesus then affirms the Scribe saying to him "you are not far from the kingdom of heaven."
What is going on in this passage, why all this talk of love?
Jesus is speaking towards the end of his time on earth, he has already ridden the donkey into Jerusalem and received the praise and adulation from the gathered crowd, a crowd he knows will turn on him and betray him in a very short time. For the last week he has been teaching in the temple courts; the scholars have brought him question after question, challenging his teachings and his authority to heal the sick, experts in the law they had been picking over the bones of everything that Jesus has to say hoping that he would incriminate himself.
But Jesus spoke well
And Jesus, when asked about the central and most important part of his teachings, the greatest commandment, spoke of love.
Love, a wonderful, terrible, powerful thing;
We see love reflected in so many places in this world, in the eyes of a mother watching over her newborn child, in the arms of a father as he lifts a little one from a fall. We see love in the glances of a young couple as they begin their lives together and in the knowing look of an older couple who have been together for more years than they care to count.
We see the love in the friend who would go the extra mile for us, and in the heart of an aid worker tirelessly serving those who need her help, we see love in the brother who has carried his sister for many miles just to find water.
When we see love, when we feel love, we recognise that it goes far beyond the slushy greetings card image that is so often sold to us. Love as a throw away emotion so often depicted in soap operas is not love at all, for love is powerful!
Love Jesus tells us is the greatest commandment; and first we are to love God.
But how do we love God, we can't see him or touch him, how can we love someone so unfathomable, so mysterious, so utterly beyond us?
The key is found through the Scriptures, sometimes described as God's love letter to us they begin to reveal to us the depths of love that God has for us…
They tell us that he knows all about us… and he still loves us that he imagined our beginnings, and watched us form in our mothers wombs…
They tell us that he cares for us, and that there is nothing on earth or in heaven that can separate us from his love.
They tell us that he has plans for us, plans for our good, plans to shield us from harm.
They tell us that we are loved by God.
And they tell us that we can love because he first loved us.
Now I understand that there are times and circumstances where the truth of God's love is brought into question, when we experience or watch others experience pain and injustice it is natural to question the love of God, even to ask whether he either cares or exists….
If God is a God of love why do pain and suffering have such a prominent place in the world?
I wish I had a pound for every time I have been asked that question, I'd be rich! And I wish that I could pull an easy and comfortable question out of the hat to answer it, but I can't. The complexities of human nature with its light and dark sides, and the wildness of the created order mean that suffering and pain are facts of life just as much as laughter and joy are…
But love is stronger.
Love is more than an emotion, it is a commitment, a commitment to be there through thick and thin, and God is committed to us, and he will give us the strength to be committed to him. Love is more important than offerings and sacrifices, because it is the ultimate offering and sacrifice….
And God loves us, so much that he revealed himself to us in Jesus, who left the glories of heaven for us, and became human. Jesus teaching provoked the scholars and the authorities of his day to question and challenge him, as much as they drew ordinary folk to follow him, for Jesus turned their understanding upside down by showing them a God of love.
Love for us took Jesus to the cross, where he suffered and died to overcome the ills of this world…
…and love, powerful and life giving love raised him from death to life. And love, for God is love, invites us to open our hearts to receive the powerful life giving, life bringing energy that true love is.
Love is a commitment.
God has kept his end of the bargain and will keep on keeping it. Jesus invites us to love God in return, and it is in that giving and receiving of love that we will find the strength to love ourselves (even with all of our faults and flaws) and our neighbours.
The truth is that God longs for a relationship with us….
The question is, dare we commit ourselves to the wonder and the mystery and the enormity of a relationship with him?
When we do, if we do, we might just find that love takes on a whole new depth and meaning!
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand…