by Marie MacPherson
“To [love God] and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).
Remember the good old Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? It’s a rule that we like to think we keep as Christians, and keep well. However, when we carefully examine our own thoughts, words, and deeds toward our neighbors—from little neighbors in our homes who keep us from our own agendas to big neighbors in our communities whom we scorn, rather than pity and grieve—we might quickly conclude that a burnt offering and a sacrificial system would be much easier than perfection on this matter of the Golden Rule!
The passage above was asserted by a scribe in response to Jesus summarizing the most important commandment, quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Essentially, Jesus condensed all of the Old Testament into a single phrase, “Love God and love your neighbor.” While a goodly bulk of the Old Testament prescribes a sacrificial system we no longer follow in modern times, that system was instituted by God to point believers to Christ, who was to come, and was, in fact, now in their midst. This side of Heaven, we will never perfectly love our neighbors, yet our good God has provided for us, His children. Hebrews 9:13-14 declares, “For if the blood of goats and bulls … sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” In joy for that purification, may God make us all into sacrificial lovers of our neighbors, small and great, beginning in our homes and overflowing into our communities.
My heart must Thou have solely,
My Savior and my God!
Come, Jesus, take it wholly,
And make it Thine abode!
Mold it to Thy control,
That I, Thy Word receiving,
May find, in Thee believing,
Salvation for my soul.
(ELH 259:7; T.H. Kingo, translated by C. Doving)
For Further Reading: Deuteronomy 6, Mark 12, Hebrews 8-9.