One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the 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.”
Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 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,’— this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
After that no one dared to ask him any question.
The scribes and the Pharisees, as many people are today, were a litigious bunch. They loved the law. They looked at the world, people, their relationships and themselves legalistically. They were conventional and their sense of morality was based on a legal code. So they, in this frame of mind, ask Jesus, “What’s the greatest commandment?”
In a way it is a trick question because it assumes a legal frame of reference, but Jesus rises above the legal code and says that the greatest thing is love and if you loved God and each other you wouldn’t need a legal code.
Jesus was a wise person. He is what the Jews call in Yiddish a “mensch.” A “mensch” is a wise person who rises above legalistic formulations and functions from a place of integrity and honor. A mensch is a person who has their shit together. A mensch functions way beyond the world of the ego and operates in another dimension of loving kindness.
At this time of Lent, if not all through the year, we are reminded that being legalistic and following the code of the ego only gets a person and society so far because without love they are simply a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal as St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians in Chapter 13.
Of course the Beatles had in right in their great song, “Love is all there is.”