Chapter 12:28-34 (ESV) - And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And 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.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Question to consider: How does the motive of the scribe’s question compare with that of the Pharisees and Sadducees?
While Jesus was having His discussion with the Sadducees, a scribe overheard the conversation and posed his own question of Jesus. It must have piqued his interest to hear Jesus tell the Sadducees that they were ignorant of the scriptures, especially considering Jesus was challenging their understanding of Exodus, a prominent book in the theology of that sect. As a reminder, the Sadducees were the temple priests who considered the books of Moses (the Law) to be the only infallible word of God. The Pharisees taught from both the Law and the Prophets (all of the books in the Septuagint) but filtered everything through the lens of their traditions which they believed also came from God.
The scribes not only copied all of the scrolls but were experts in the Law and Prophets. They served both the Sadducees and Pharisees and had their origins during the reforms of king Hezekiah. About 200 years later would come a famous scribe named Ezra who would help Israel rediscover the scriptures of God as they began the work of rebuilding Jerusalem after the exile to Babylon.
With the incredible insight Jesus provided about the verb tense used by God concerning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being an indication of their resurrection from the dead, the scribe decided to test the orthodoxy of Jesus. This was actually a worthwhile test, for the scribe was not seeking to trap Jesus or undermine Him. He was trying to discern whether Jesus spoke the truth. The primary goal for all of our discussions should be to discover truth rather than defend a position. It is okay to find out we are wrong about something! I believe that if we study scripture in its intended context instead of forcing it to fit our own ideas, the truth will be revealed. If in that process we discover we have made an error, we should be humble enough to admit it… and change.
Since this man asked the question to discover truth and not to trap Jesus, He gave the scribe a direct answer. The greatest commandment was the Hebrew Shema: “Hear God!” [As a side note, this idea brilliantly parallels God's command at Christ’s Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son; LISTEN TO HIM!”] Jesus’ statement pointed the scribe to Deuteronomy 6 where Moses defined for Israel what it means to love God. Loving God is not an emotional experience or a verbal declaration. We love God by reverently obeying His commands, and God primarily commands us to teach our children, run our households, and serve our neighbor in His name.
The scribe understood this and thus understood Jesus to be a right teacher. To the Sadducees who held sacrifices to be the highest order, the scribe pointed out that God desires obedience above sacrifice. If we were able to keep the commandments, there would be no need for sacrifice. Jesus commended the scribe for his wisdom, but even so, the scribe would not be righteous enough to enter Christ’s kingdom on His own. My prayer is that the scribe continued to pay attention to Jesus and received the righteousness that only He could provide.
Dear heavenly father, may we be like the scribe who discerned the truth of Christ by Your word and not try to bend Your word to fit our own philosophies and desires. Help us to be humble enough to be corrected when we err in our understanding, and may we all desire to encourage one another in the faith as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Amen.