Connections 11.04.2018: Jesus Drops the Mic

Mark 12:28-34

According to my findings after a Google search, the term “mic drop” originated in the 1980s when entertainers would try to better each other. As one performer finished his rap or comedy sketch or speech, he’d drop the microphone as if to say, “You can’t top that.” Now the term is common enough that we may say “mic drop” after giving or hearing what we think is a particularly powerful and effective message. It’s like saying, “Case closed.”

At the dawn of the Christian faith, people were trying to figure out exactly what it meant to follow Jesus. For centuries before he lived and taught among human beings as a human being himself, worshipers of God had struggled to keep God’s commands. And the original Ten Commandments God dictated to Moses weren’t clear enough for them. Religious leaders added more and more explanations and expansions and clarifications to God’s words until it became nearly impossible to keep them all. It makes sense, then, that someone would go up to Jesus and ask, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (v. 28). The scribe was basically asking Jesus to help him condense the overwhelming volume of instruction into something humanly possible.

And Jesus did just that. I’m not the first or the last to summarize the “greatest commandments” in this simple phrase: Love God and love people.

Some would say this is too simple, or they might ask what it means. How do we love God? How do we best love people? What do we need to do to express this love? Does love for God include going to church, reading Scripture, sitting in nature, etc.? Does love for people include meeting their needs, being their friend, holding them accountable, encouraging personal responsibility, etc.?

As usual, I find that the best answer to these more complicated questions is to look at the life of Jesus. How did he love God? How did he love people? We will know if we read the Gospels. If we can live out our love in ways similar to his ways, then I think we are on the right track.

“What’s the greatest commandment?” the scribe asked Jesus.

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall 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, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (vv. 29-30)

Mic drop.

Source: “Mic drop,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mic_drop (accessed 19 October 2018).

Discussion

1. Have you ever said or heard something that was worthy of a “mic drop”? What made it so powerful and effective?
2. If someone told you to read the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17) and tell them the “first” or greatest one, which would you choose and why?
3. Why do you think people felt the need to expand on these laws from God? What might be unclear about them?
4. In Matthew 22:34-40, a Pharisee lawyer asks Jesus about the greatest commandment, and Jesus gives him the same answer about loving God and loving people. Jesus also says that “all the law and the prophets” rest on this greatest commandment. Why do you think Jesus’ answer effectively summarizes God’s commandments and the prophets’ elaboration on them?
5. What can you do today to love God and people more? How does the life of Jesus give you a starting point?

Reference Shelf

The scribe asks, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (v. 28). The use of “first” meaning “chief” or “preeminent” occurs elsewhere in Mark: the “first” men of Galilee (6:21) and the “first” among the disciples (9:35; 10:31, 44). Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 in a form that is close to the Septuagint (and the Masoretic Text) but that adds a fourth qualifier, “and with all your mind,” and changes the word for “strength” from dynameøs to ischyos. When the scribe repeats the command, he omits two of the qualifiers (soul and mind) and adds another (understanding), thereby returning to the form of three qualifiers as found in the biblical text. “Understanding” may also be a combination of “soul” and “mind.” Matthew and Luke both omit Deuteronomy 6:4 and move directly to 6:5. Matthew omits the fourth qualifier (strength; Matt 22:37) and Luke reverses the last two qualifiers, reading “strength” then “mind.” The form of the text was therefore still fluid even though it was the beginning of the Shema (Deut 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Num 15:37-41), which was recited twice each day by the faithful. From these variations in the synoptic texts Joachim Jeremias concluded that “the Greek Shema was not a regularly recited liturgical text for any of the three synoptic evangelists.”

The Shema, known by the first word of the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:4, is the foundational confession of ancient Israel, a call for complete and exclusive devotion to Yahweh. The command to “hear” is not passive but active. To “hear” means to give heed to and obey. The affirmation that follows may emphasize either the oneness of Yahweh or the exclusivity of Yahweh’s claim on Israel’s devotion. God demands our complete devotion; we are to serve no other God. Therefore, the affirmation of God’s exclusive right to worship is followed by the command to love God with all one’s being. William Lane comments: “The love which determines the whole disposition of one’s life and places one’s whole personality in the service of God reflects a commitment to God which springs from divine sonship.” For ancient anthropology the heart was the center of the will and volition, the center of one’s inner life, the epitome of the person. When one loves God with one’s whole heart, there can be no hypocrisy. Like “heart,” “soul” (psyche) denoted the whole person (see commentary on 8:35). Behind the New Testament usage of psyche lies the Hebrew understanding of the human being as a living, breathing nephesh. James castigates the “double-minded” (dipsychos; Jas 1:8; 4:8) by which he means those whose loyalties are divided, or whose commitments vacillate. When one loves God with one’s whole soul or life (psyche), one’s ultimate allegiance is clear and uncompromised. “Mind” or “understanding” (dianoia) denoted one’s moral consciousness. Paul characterizes the unbelieving Gentiles as “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God” (Eph 4:18). When one loves God with one’s whole mind, therefore, there can be no confusion about what is right before God. “Strength” (ischys) denotes all human energy and vitality. Ephesians 6:10 admonishes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” Birger Gerhardsson extends the meaning of “strength” to encompass “external resources, power, mammon”—all of one’s possessions, property, and resources. When one loves God with one’s whole strength, one neither squanders life on lesser pursuits nor allows material goods to become false gods. The call to love God therefore claims all that defines our lives.

To this greatest commandment Jesus adds a second: Leviticus 19:18, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31 reproduces the Septuagint text of this command verbatim. Originally, “neighbor” meant one’s fellow Israelite, but by the first century the question of who should be counted as a neighbor was in debate, and in Luke Jesus responds to the question with the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37; cf. Matt 5:43; Rom 13:9-10; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8). The elder of 1 John asks pointed questions about the love command: how can God’s love abide in one who sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help (3:17), and how can one love God, whom he has not seen, if he does not love a brother or sister, whom he has seen? (4:20). The two commands appear already to have been joined (T. Iss. 5:2, “Love the Lord and your neighbor”; see also 7:6, where Issachar says he has loved God and “every human being,” and T. Dan 5:3). Nevertheless, there is no earlier text in which Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 are specifically linked.

Mark’s interest is neither in the definition of “neighbor” nor in the nature of the love that is commanded but in the inseparability of love of God and love of neighbor. The love command does not occur outside this passage in Mark, and the noun agape does not appear in this Gospel. Instead, Mark insists that true belief in God is not expressed through participation in the cultic practices (purity, feasts, or sacrifices) but in keeping the moral law, that is, by loving one’s fellow human being.

R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 420–21.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley attends First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (13) and Natalie (11), and her husband John. Currently, she is looking for the next opportunity to be onstage in a local theater production. She also loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she will always be a writer at heart.

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