“And the scribe said to him, ‘Very good, teacher, you speak truthfully that He is one and that there is not another besides him. And to love Him with the whole heart, with the whole understanding, with all strength, and to love a neighbor as ourselves is far greater than all of the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
It is obvious that the scribe is pleased with Jesus’ response, and this sets up an interesting dynamic, for Jesus will commend (at least on one level) the scribe as well. This makes for one of the more unusual interactions that Jesus has during this week. Prior to this question, Jesus has been bombarded by challenges to his authority and traps to try and trick him into siding with this group or that. Here, as we discussed above, is at least an underlying question again as to who Jesus will side with in his interpretation of the law. Some have made the suggestion that this comment by the scribe is rather insincere, but that seems rather odd given the context of Jesus’ statement in response. So how are we to understand this dialogue and how are we going to understand the variation between what Jesus taught immediately before and how this scribe paraphrases his statement?
To begin with, we see the scribe giving the briefest summary of the Shema. Jesus has quoted it verbatim and the scribe is giving his own interpretation of what Jesus said, tying in Deuteronomy 4:35 to support his answer. This was a common rhetorical technique amongst the Jewish Rabbis. Theology was done in the form of dialogue, so one might begin with a question, and the discussion that ensued would be in the form of more questions, answers, and interpretations in the hopes of arriving at a better understanding of the question at hand. We should not see the Scribe as being incompetent and unable to quote the Shema back to Jesus, but that he is interpreting Jesus’ statement in the context of the discussion. With this in mind, it sets the stage for the second part of the scribe’s statement. The scribe misses the language of yuch/ (psuche), or life, altogether and he replaces Jesus’ language of dia/noia (dianoia), or understanding, with the language of su/nesiß (sunesis), or intelligence. In addition, the scribe ties in passages like Hosea 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:22, to speak of our loving obedience to God is far better than the ritual sacrifices of the temple. Again, what we find is that the scribe is responding to Jesus’ statement by offering an interpretation of it, and Jesus will respond favorably.
One of the major issues that Jesus battled with during his earthly ministry was the issue of people missing the intent behind the law in their pursuit of the letter of the law. The Pharisees, especially, were guilty of this. In their zeal for obedience, they had allowed the law to be understood in a legalistic way and had become blinded to the truth behind what God was commanding. God demands love and obedience from his people in every aspect and area of their lives. As Abraham Kuyper commented, “There is not an inch of this whole life that Jesus, as Lord of creation, does not put his finger on and declare, ‘Mine!’” And in the case of this scribe, it seems that he got it. He understood the intent of the law and demonstrated that understanding by the way he tied in other passages of scripture that spoke of similar things. So, beloved, what should we be reminded of from our scribe’s answer? We should be reminded that in all that we do, in whatever capacity that we serve the church, we are to be wholly committed to the Lord Jesus Christ. This commitment must never take the form of a list of “dos” and “don’ts” apart from what scripture commands to be a “do” or a “don’t,” but instead, we are to pursue God and his righteousness in service to our fellow man. This is our calling, to share the gospel with all and to make disciples by baptizing and teaching people to obey all that Jesus taught. Beloved, what a task we have before us; pray that the Holy Spirit will bless that task and empower it in such a way that God is glorified in all we do.