Today’s author is Prince of Peace member, Paul Spongheim.

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

“Which commandment is first of all?” 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.” (Mark 12:28b-31

What’s with this “ALL IN” as my title territory? I’m never quite sure if I understand current cultural jargon, but I think this two-word phrase is used to convey the most thoroughgoing commitment to something–a project, a proposal, a possibility. Well, that’s the turf traversed in Mark’s text here. Did you count the times the word “all” is used? Yep, four times we are told that it won’t do to love God “quite a bit” or even “a whole lot.” We have to be “All In”. Theologians are fond of calling this a “qualitative” or “categorical” difference from other commitments. Or a difference of kind, not degree. Consider the range of the commitment: heart, soul, mind, strength. All of each of these is to be at work in our love for God. That scope is God talk, pure and simple. Mark’s Jesus speaks of this commandment as “first”. That could be a basis for Lenten self-examination. I could ask myself if there is a part of my life where God places second? Then, I am in some difficulty with this text. We are called to be ALL IN in our love to God.

And there is a SECOND commandment where Jesus seems to see a close connection to the first. After all, when Jesus is asked which is first, he responds with the All In of our love for God and then launches right on to the second. This second commandment must be pretty important. Is it possible that somehow our response to the second reveals where we are relative to the first? What does it mean that I am to love my neighbor AS myself? It could mean that unfortunately we do already love ourselves, sinfully, and we are being told that we should repent so that we are freed from the vicious circle of self-interest. I have said in class at seminary that Lutherans only feel good when they feel bad. But Christian life is not a course in masochism. And what of the fact that the scripture speaks of us as made in the image of God? You don’t praise the Creator by cursing the creation. I’m glad that the psychological disciplines and pastoral care courses have stressed the importance of a healthy self-affirmation for the person of faith.

I think each one of us is faced with a balancing act where we try to figure out how to spend our resources, our energies, our checkbooks. Luke locates the statement of these two commandments in a leadup to the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10) where Jesus flips the conversation to sketch out what responsibilities lie with the questioner. It is clear that the neighbor has needs that must not be ignored by the Samaritan. If meeting somebody’s needs is a key factor in locating love for the neighbor, we have needs aplenty. What can we do to bind up our neighbor’s wounds, to provide for ongoing care? There will be plenty for us to do.

There’s one additional question to face, In Mark’s twelfth chapter the theme of the great commandment stands out, calling for us to be “all in”. But it is worth noting that the chapter closes with Jesus praising the widow who gives what she needs to live on. Jesus says that she gives out of poverty, not abundance. The text puts a question to me: Have I ever given sacrificially? If all my giving, whether to Prince of Peace or to the St. Paul United Way, has been out of abundance, I’m again in trouble with this text. Are we not thus troubled? When we hear the challenge of the two great commandments, who is left standing?  As we fall on our knees, let us join Soren Kierkegaard in his beautiful Trinitarian prayer grounded in THE ALL IN of GOD’S GIVING IN THE GOSPEL:

“How could one speak properly of love, if you were forgotten, you God of love, source of all love in heaven and on earth; you, who spared nothing but in love gave everything; you who are love, so that one who loves is what he is only by being in you!

How could one speak properly about love, if you were forgotten, you who revealed what love is, you our Savior and Redeemer, who gave yourself in order to save all.

How could one speak properly of love if you were forgotten, you Spirit of love, who take nothing of your own but remind us of that love-sacrifice, remind the believer to love as he is loved and his neighbor as himself!

O Eternal Love, you who are everywhere present and never without witness where you are called upon, be not without witness in what will be said here about love or about works of love. There are indeed only some works that human language specifically and narrowly calls works of love, but in heaven no work can be pleasing unless it is a work of love: sincere in self-renunciation, a need in love itself, and for that very reason without any claim of meritoriousness.”
S. Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 3-4 (Hongs).