The idea of a spiritual heart transplant is a vivid image to me; once you have the heart of somebody else inside you, then that heart is there. Jesus' heart is inside me, and my heart is gone. So if God were to place a stethoscope against my chest, he would hear the heart of Jesus Christ beating. Max Lucado
SCRIPTURE & DEVOTION: Mark 12:1-34; focused on Mark 12:28-34
One of the teachers of the law came and heard Jesus debating with the Sadducees. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “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.”
“Well said, teacher”, the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Heart, soul, mind, and strength
In this story, unlike many of the situations where religious authorities questioned Jesus in order to test or to entrap him, the teacher of the law who asks Jesus to specify the greatest commandment seems devoid of any ulterior motive. He obviously respects Jesus’s teaching; we are told that he considered Jesus’ answer to a previous question “good.” He understands that there are many commandments, and that it is very difficult to keep all of them completely and consistently, all of the time.
So he asks Jesus for help in prioritizing the commandments in order to better organize his thinking about them. The answer that Jesus gives him strips away all the unnecessary trappings of doctrinal legalism and the idiosyncrasies of culture: what God wants most is for us to love him and to love the people around us.
But what does it mean to love God with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength”? Here are a few definitions for each of these words (courtesy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary) that might serve to expand our understanding:
Heart: the emotional or moral nature of a person; love, affection, courage, and ardor; one’s innermost character, feelings, or inclinations; the essential or most vital part.
Soul: the spiritual principle embodied in all rational beings; the intangible essence and animating principle of an individual life; the moral and emotional nature of human beings.
Mind: the intellect; the conscious mental faculties and capabilities in an organism that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons.
Strength: the capacity for endurance; intensity, vigor, solidity, toughness, might; the power to resist attack.
Everything that we are, think, or feel: the sum of our character, our intellect, our emotions, our reason, our inclinations, our abilities – it’s all there in those four little words. Basically, it means that we are to love God with everything we are and everything we have.
But it doesn’t end there. We are to love people, too, unselfishly and with the same care for their welfare as we have for our own. That is the true proof of one’s commitment to follow God, for all of the other commandments given in scripture depend upon these two. The teacher of the law in this story recognizes that no matter whatever else we do in trying to live a godly life, nothing matters as much as the attitude of our hearts. Without love and acts of service, the outward trappings of our religion become merely “burnt offerings and sacrifices”, meaningless in and of themselves. The man’s reply to Jesus shows that he understands this important teaching, and Jesus rewards him with a beautiful statement of approval. When we “ Love God, Love People. Serve Both,” may we, too, find ourselves “not far from the kingdom of God.”
Jesus, we want to know You better, to be close to the kingdom of God. We want to allow You to rule and reign in our hearts. Continue to work in us that we may love You, love people and show our love by serving both.