The Greatest Commandments


Mark 12

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

I’ve decided this summer to explore what this means in a practical sense.  If it’s important to Jesus (and He says so Himself), then it should probably be important to me as His follower.

This is a passage that I’ve known since childhood – among the first of the many many memory passages that dear Jack Musikov helped me learn in third grade Sunday School.  Jack would assign us a verse or two, and when we were able to recite it back to him, Jack would cry.  He also usually gave us some little trinket as a reward, but in looking back, it was his tears that made the largest impact.

Anyway,  it’s a passage that is easily rattled off, and while I’ve often thought about it, I’ve never really dissected how it could be applied in a practical way.  Jesus has never struck me as a theoretical kind of guy.  While He spoke in stories, there is always an element of action implied.  He tells the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more.”  The paralytic is told to pick up his mat. And in the parable of the wise and foolish builders, He says flat out that “Everyone who hears these words of mine AND PUTS THEM INTO PRACTICE is like a wise man…” (Matthew 7:24)

Um.  Hello?!

So why is this so hard?  The distractions of our day are so many that it is easy to not be deliberate about practicing what Jesus considers to be the most important commandment!  There is so much talk these days about intentionality. (Which spell-check is telling me isn’t even actually a word. I can’t point fingers because I make up words all the time. However, when I looked it up in the on-line dictionary, it does appear.  So there, spell-check!)

Our society harps on about being intentional.  I see nothing wrong with that, but how about a little less talk and a little more action?  What does being intentional look like?  And how do we choose what to be intentional about?  Sometimes I think we are mostly being intentional about being intentional. The fact of the matter is, it is extremely difficult to be intentional about everything.  And exhausting.

So I’m going to choose a few things to be intentional about this summer.  And those things are loving God with all my heart.  And with all my soul. And with all my mind.  And with all my strength.

And the hard one.  To love my neighbor as myself.

I will explore these commands in posts over the summer – how I’m trying to put them into practice, when it works and when I fall flat on my face.   And to make it memorable, I’m posting the commands on my wall where I will see them as a mini-reminder every day.

Welcome to my closet. You’ll notice that, yes, I’ve hung my reminder with painters’ tape.  And yes, it is just printed on cheap printer paper.  And yes, the only nod to being even remotely artsy is that I played with fonts.  Not very well.

Hey, you use what you have!  I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.







A Wise Heart – On Discernment

“The wise in heart are called discerning…”  Proverbs 16:21

“Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning…” Proverbs 14:33

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  Discernment and wisdom feature prominently in the book of Proverbs, often going hand in hand.  Discernment is a virtue that our society does not spend much time pursuing.  We are a people of snap-judgments, spur of the moment ideas, spontaneity.  None of these are necessarily bad, but when they become our modus operandi, we lose out.  Our lives move so quickly that we are becoming servants of instant gratification.  We text a friend and want immediate replies.  We order food out of our car window and by the time we pull forward we are being handed a bag.  Successful businesses are run by people who can most quickly survey the situation, make a judgment and make things happen.  This fast-paced frenetic mode of doing life comes at a cost.  We are frequently decision-weary.  And almost always just plain weary.

This is not the way of wisdom.  Wisdom calls us to slow down, to ponder.  Ponder is not a word we use much anymore.  To ponder is to weigh our options carefully, to thoughtfully consider, mull over, meditate on, contemplate, reflect on, deliberate about. To ponder is to discern what is right.

Discernment takes time.  It takes quiet.  Discernment asks hard questions of trusted friends.  Discernment requires prayer, reading, listening. Discernment means doing all of these things and listening for the still small voice – the gut feeling, the peace about a decision.  I don’t do this enough.  To sit still and just think is so foreign in my life that it can almost be anxiety producing.  There’s so much to do.  Laundry, school work, house work, spouse work, kids, bills, dinner, exercise, carpool, ad infinitum.  I get tired just thinking about it, so the easiest thing is to DO not THINK.

Jesus had some friends who lived in a little town called Bethany, two sisters and a brother (who isn’t featured in this mini-drama).  So Jesus went to visit these dear ones, and one sister – let’s call her Me – was so caught up in DOING – that she became agitated and angry and resentful of the other sister – let’s call her Who I’d like to be –   who just sat at Jesus’ feet and listened, discerned, learned wisdom.

Me: Hello?  Jesus?  Could you please send Who I’d like to be in here to help me out?  There’s a lot to do-oo!  (pregnant pause, followed by a shrew-like shout) Like RIGHT NOW!!!!

Jesus (kindly, gently):  Why don’t you come in here and sit awhile. The work will keep. Who you’d like to be has chosen what is better – to sit at my feet and listen.

Hmm.  Who I’d like to be seems to have more wisdom, more scope for choosing the right thing than ME. More discernment.  Simply by sitting, pondering, with Jesus.

Our society gives value to busy-ness.  But that is not what is important in God’s economy. To sit and listen.  To learn.  To hear the voice of the Dear Friend giving us wisdom and insight and knowledge and discernment.  So that we can learn what is true and noble and right and good.

Maybe one of my Lenten practices should be to be still.  And when someone asks me what I’m up to is not to answer “Oh, crazy busy” but to say “I’m working on sitting.  I’m learning how to be still and know God. I’m discerning.”

Back to our original question: Which comes first? Wisdom or discernment? Or must they go together, each constantly feeding the other? And how to get them both? It’s time to re-embrace being still as a virtue.

“Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.”

Joachim Neander (1630) translated by Catherine Winkworth (1863)