"The First Commandment(s)"

Proper 26 Year B
Sunday between October 30 and November 5 inclusive

Mark 12:28-34

Background Notes, and Sermon Suggestions

This little exchange that Jesus has with a “Scribe” (Matthew and Luke call him a “Lawyer”) take place inside Jerusalem. If you’ve been following along with the Gospel texts as they appear in the Revised Common Lectionary, you know that for the last Gazillion weeks Jesus has been wandering through out Galilee and north Israel and partly up in the region of the Decapolis and Syrophoenicia, and then starting in chapter eight, he began walking towards Jerusalem. And it could feel a little jarring to find him there so suddenly in the last couple of weeks with no introduction. Well, all of those entering Jerusalem passages just got passed off to Lent. We can’t do them now, yet we have several weeks before we start Advent, so the respectable people who designed the Lectionary wisely leapt over them and here we are.  

There are a lot of interesting things lying in the background of this passage, probably far more than you could ever want to use in a sermon. Jesus is stopped by a scribe, who asks him which is the most important of the commandments, Jesus answers him with two of them instead (sometimes called the “Great Commandment”), the scribe seems to agree with him, Jesus says he’s on the verge of the Kingdom of God, and then they part.

First, for comparison, it might be helpful to see the Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus uses in constructing his “Greatest Commandment.” Feel free to skip over this part, if it looks boring to you (but be aware that it will probably come off of your grade at the end of the semester).

The parts that Jesus did not quote are added for context and are in italics.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

4Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.[1] 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Leviticus 19:9-18

9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
11You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.
13You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
15You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
17You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but
you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

When the Scribe answered Jesus, he references this passage from 1 Samuel 15:22
And Samuel said,
        “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
        as in obedience to the voice of the LORD?
        Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
        and to heed than the fat of rams.

And possibly this one from Hosea 6:6
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
       the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Three Differences between Mark’s version and the other Synoptics

(The outline roughly follows Texts for Preaching, p. 574, with additional citations and personal additions.)

1.      In Mark’s the questioner seems truly curious. Very little sound of animosity. In most, if not all of the rest of the occasions when a Jewish authority asks him a question, it is a ruse to attempt to trap him or trip him up. If it is also a ruse here to trap Jesus, it is far more subtle, as I will note below.  
·        In Mk. 12:13-17 people called the “Herodians” come down from Jerusalem and ask him if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.
·      In vv. 18-27 Sadducees ask him a complicated question about who is married to whom after they all have died.

But here it simply says that the Scribe heard “that he answered them (the critics in the previous passage) well,” and asked him a question about which was the “first” (i.e. greatest) commandment. It is impossible for me to determine from the initial question whether there was an original tone of animosity or entrapment, but the follow up (vv. 32-34) sounds entirely sincere and without anger.[2]
What is even more surprising, to me at least, is the fact that the synoptic parallels, Matt. 22:35 and Luke 10:25, do not show the scribe as a sincere questioner, but describe him as “testing” Jesus. He is clearly antagonistic and out to trip up Jesus. Why? One answer would be to say that they are following “Q” here, but that only shifts the question from Matt/Luke to “Q.” It doesn’t explain why there would there be a difference between “Q” and Mark.

2.      Mark has Jesus quote the Shema in Deut. 6:4 (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone”) as well as Deut 6:5 (“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”). The addition of the shema is significant in that it puts an emphasis on the monotheistic nature of God. This one statement is the most profound addition to theology of the ancient Hebrews, and what set them apart from nearly all of the other religions of the world. It was very nearly sui generis in its age. But interestingly, the others leave it out. Why? It isn’t clear why, but some scholars believe that Mark’s readers, who were Hellenistic gentiles, immersed in polytheism, needed to be reminded of the foundation of Israel’s faith.

It seems odd to me that the others would leave out so much of Mark. All of vv. 32-34 are missing. That’s the part where the scribe agrees with what Jesus has said and where Jesus says that the scribe is not far from the Kingdom. It’s worth noting again that both Matt and Luke don’t see this exchange as friendly. And perhaps they saw the continuation of the conversation after Jesus’ “Slam Dunk” of an answer as coming to close to portraying the conversation as friendly, and they didn't like it so they cut it out. Usually, when Jesus gives a “slam dunk” answer to a question, that’s the end of the passage. Here he makes his statement and it goes on for a while with this approving-sounding dialogue. Very odd. Its very oddness has often been used to argue for its authenticity (though the Jesus Seminar as a whole has voted against it, giving Jesus’ words a “grey” rating).

In my opinion, the idea that this was a friendly conversation is not quite as clear as many in history have thought it to be, for reasons I’ll cite below in my sermon suggestions, but it clearly is not as caustic as similar conversations in Mark or in the parallel versions of this story in Matt and Luke are.

Possible sermon outline:
First you should say a little about the context. You may recall from last week, that we just finished a long section of Mark that ran from Ch. 8-10. That was the period that began with a story of healing a blind man and ended with a story of the healing of a blind man and filled in the middle filled with stories of how his disciples were acting like they were spiritually (and intellectually), “blind.”

The next passages after that section were the “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem, the money changers in the temple, the cursing of the fig tree, etc. . Obviously we can’t do that passage here, because we will be doing it next year on Palm Sunday, so this passage today skips forward a bit. He is now in Jerusalem and has been in constant conflict (not “Constant Contact,” or “Constant Comment”)with the religious authorities. Here are three examples that have happened just before the passage for this Sunday. I’ve given a little of the background of each one, but it would be good for you to read through them yourself so that you can paraphrase the passages. The point is just to say that up until this moment all of his contacts with the religious/political figures of Jerusalem, have been confrontational.  

  1. One day when he was walking in the temple, some of the  Chief priests, scribes and elders came up to him and asked him caustically, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you the authority to do them?” And he spars back and forth with them (11:27-33).
  2. Another time some Pharisees and Herodians (people who were loyal to Herod) come up to him and try to “trap” him into saying something against the government. They ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not? Should we pay them or should we not?” the point being that if he says, yes, pay the taxes to Caesar, the people of the streets would hate him as a traitor to Israel, but if he says no, he could be arrested for sedition. That’s where, as you may recall, he takes a coin and says whose picture is on it, (and it’s Caesar’s) and he says then “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12:17).
  3. Then an argument with some Sadducees, who don’t believe in life after death. They try to trap him in a long drawn out hypothetical question of, if a woman has five husbands and they all die, then when she gets to heaven, whose wife will she be? It’s an interesting question, by the way, but they asked it because they were on the attack and trying to find a flaw in his logic, not because they cared about the question (12:13-17).
So, it’s all the more interesting that with this passage today, someone asks a question that appears so totally non-confrontational, almost friendly: What’s the greatest commandment?

Many, if not most, scholars accept it on face value that the scribe was asking a friendly question and Jesus answered him in a friendly way. But it may not be as friendly as it looks. Ched Myers sees what he calls “subtleties” in the text that don’t look totally friendly, which we’ll discuss below.

  •   Right after this passage (in Proper 27), Jesus condemns the entire class of scribes (12:38 ff.). 
  • In both Matthew’s and Luke’s version of the story, the questioning scribe is portrayed as being unfriendly (Mt 22:35; Lk 10:25). 
  • The question the scribe asks is what is “first of all of the commandments.” That sounds benign enough, but it is a question a scribe would have immersed himself in for decades. The scribes were experts in the commandments so he knew all the answers to this question and undoubtedly was clear on one for himself. And according to Mark, he had been listening to Jesus for some time, so he probably already knew what Jesus might say to the question. So, why did he ask it? Is he really wanting to learn something new? Or even learn Jesus’ opinion? Or is he trying to trap Jesus into saying something political that can be used against him? The question that sounds friendly, could just as easily “be interpreted as yet another attempt to get Jesus to reveal his own political commitments.”[4]
  • After they speak, Jesus says that he had answered “wisely” or better “thoughtfully.” The underlying Greek adjective was nounechōs, which means intellectually, not emotionally. The thoughts were fine, he might be saying, but they came from his head, not his heart. He knew the scripture, but wasn’t committed to it.
  • In the end, after their exchange, instead of inviting the scribe to follow him, Jesus just says that he is “not far” from the kingdom. According to Myers, “‘Not far’ once again implies that orthodoxy is not enough; it must be accompanied by the practice of Justice in one’s neighbor”
  • Myers says that it is possible that Jesus couldn't quite accept the Scribe as being within the kingdom because he was a member of a corrupt, politically oppressive branch of the ruling class. the scribe himself may not have felt himself to have been corrupt, but he participated in the corruption and participated in the oppression. So, no matter what he quoted with his head, his heart could only get "close" to the kingdom.[5] 

Jesus’ Answer to the Great Question
So, regardless of the intent of the questioner, what was Jesus’ answer to him? It starts off sounding straight forward and orthodox. He begins by citing the shema, Deuteronomy 6:4 ff., “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark’s version adds “with all your mind,” 12:30).

But then he takes a surprising turn. To the question of what is the (single) most important commandment, he adds a second commandment. One that he draws from Leviticus 19:8, that you should also love your neighbor as yourself.

This combining together of these two laws had never been done before. There is no record of anyone ever linking the two commandments together in this way. No one. It seems so obvious to us today, because we have heard them linked since we were first in Sunday School, but no one until Jesus had ever seen that linkage before. At least no one who we have quote from in print. Ralph-the-baker in Ur of the Chaldees may have thought of it, and shared the idea with his cousin Larry in upper Sidon, but they never wrote it down. It was never a part of the official (or unofficial for that matter) teaching of Judaism.

So, here is the orthodox portion of the message that both Jesus and the Scribe agreed was THE greatest commandment (It’s actually two and almost three, but who’s counting?):

“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
(This is the “shema,” used here as something like an introduction to what follows, but it’s so central, so primary, that it’s almost like another commandment itself. It is the spinal cord theological principle of the ancient Jews. God is one, not many. This is what set them apart from all of the other polytheistic religions of their day. It seems so benign by today’s standards, but was extremely radical in its day.)

30you shall love the Lord your God (the “one” God of the “spinal cord” principle)[6]
with all your heart, and
with all your soul, and
[with all your mind, and] (added to the original passage)
with all your strength.’

[Then followed the radical turn]
31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

What does it mean?
After you have gone this far with your congregants, it’s time to turn toward your homiletical point.
Jesus’ profound insight was that you cannot have one without the other. The love of God empowers you—drives you—to love your neighbor. And loving the neighbor means that ultimately you are loving God. They are two sides of the same coin, therefore, in a very real sense, they are actually ONE commandment.

The problem is that in our lives, we don’t always get that right. Some of us emphasize one half of this dual commandment, and others emphasize the other. It’s true that sometimes the emphasis ought to fall on the first half and at another time it ought to fall on the other, but never to the total exclusion of one over the other.

1.    Sometimes we need to really hammer home that loving God is impossible without loving neighbor. The second commandment is in a sense an “explanation” for how the first one should be put into practice. See the context of Lev. 19:9-18, it consists of rich lists of ways that the poor and weak and blind and deaf and the alien are to be protected from exploitation from the powerful. It was from this impressive pool of justice commands that Jesus plucked the second half of his “Greatest Commandment.” One cannot love God on the one hand and ignore the plight of the neighbor on the other. Those two actions are incompatible.

If we try to be Christians without working to alleviate hunger and poverty and racism and ageism in the world, we are denying the core of the Bible.

Here you might want to retell the story of Jim Wallis, the past editor of Sojourners Magazine, who says that when he was in college he and a few buddies tried to see what would happen if they cut all of the references to poverty and injustice out of the Bible. The cut and cut and cut and at the end all they came up with is a shredded useless Bible. Google it. He tells the story often and is a graphic example of what the Bible stands for as compared to what most of us followers of the Bible take from it. At the same time, if you have the courage to try it, you might also note that there are about five or six verses in the Bible that come anywhere close to condemning homosexuality. How interesting is it that we spend so much energy combatting something that has so little air time in the Bible, while lightly touching now and then on something that is so central to the biblical message.

2.    On the other hand, if we ONLY spend our Christian lives working for issues of justice and hunger, and poverty and equality and equity, and environmentalism, then eventually we will dry up and blow away, our heart becomes empty and meaningless. We will have a Gospel that is all teeth and no grace, a “noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.” We have to have the spirit of God within us or else we will not have the energy to do the work of the Gospel.

Sometimes over emphasis on the love of neighbor can result in the neglect of love of God. It can become social work instead of praise or worship, or prayer, or meditation. We can become empty givers instead of spirit filled receivers. “The commands to love God totally and to love our neighbors as ourselves stand at the very heart of the faith.”[7]

Every church should reach out in mission work for the community and for the world. I wish our church did more outreach. I wish our Missions Board had forty people on it, clamoring to volunteer for new projects. But I also know that if we did too much of that kind of thing, we’d be in danger of feeling like empty volunteers and not spirit filled followers of Jesus.

One possibility here is to look up and retell the story of the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC,  that did so much outreach they began to feel too much like a social service agency, and it came close to disbanding. They finally retooled and rediscovered Jesus and the Holy Spirit an began programming in more and more meditation and prayer experiences in the church. They are today thriving again.[8]

So, we MUST be a people who worships the Lord our God with all of our heart mind and soul. I hope that all of you have a time every day in which you pray or read the Psalms, or a devotion book or something to continue your spiritual walk with God throughout the week. Every church ought to have opportunities for that.

But on the other hand, an over emphasis on just worship and prayer and spirituality as though that is the sum total of the Christian Gospel will also leave you as empty as those who do nothing but outreach. You will have all of the right words, but your soul will not be well. You do not have the right deeds.

At this point I would close with a story I read years ago in a preaching magazine (my apologies for not recalling which one), and it captured exactly the dual problems. This guy did have a good morning devotional time and one day he was in the middle of it and his young teenaged son came in in tears because he had just gotten off of the phone with his girlfriend who had broken up with him. He was crying but his father said, sorry, I’m in prayer right now can we talk about that later?

What a royally stupid thing to say. To his credit, later, the father felt awful about what he had said and was very attentive to his son, and he stopped what he was doing and went out and had a good father-son conversation with his son. But that action symbolizes the kind of thing that you shouldn’t do.

Some churches will tell you that the most important thing you can do for Jesus is to claim him as your own personal lord and savior, the son of God, and to worship him in church. That’s great, but it’s also incomplete. Believing in Jesus also means following Jesus. If you leave off the second half, you leave off all of the parts that make the world a more humane, just place in which to live.

Jesus seemed to think that there was not much distinction between praying and serving. If you didn’t do one, you couldn’t do the other. Praise of God without serving and caring for the needs of your less fortunate neighbor was empty, shallow and hypocritical. Constantly giving to others without feeding yourself by being in touch with the Holy Spirit made you empty and exhausted.

Perhaps, though, the problem with the vast fast majority is not that we do too much of one and neglect the other, but that we don’t do much of either. Maybe our biggest sin is not the extremes, but the lukewarm portion of the middle.

[1] Or The LORD our God is one LORD, or The LORD our God, the LORD is one, or The LORD is our God, the LORD is one
[2] I am assuming here a historical base to this story, though obviously altered by the evangelists; the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar voted Jesus’ words grey, meaning only the barest of hints of historicity.
[3] Texts for Preaching: Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B, Walter Brueggemann, et. al. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1933), p. 574.
[4] Myers, Binding the Strong Man, p. 317.
[5] Myers, p. 318.
[6] “[C]learly these words are not just seen as an introduction to the command to love God; rather, they evidently articulate for Mark a profound truth about the uniqueness of God, and this may reflect the way in which the tradition was being used in a more Hellenistic environment where polytheism was more of a live issue than in Jewish Israel. (John Barton and John Muddiman, eds., Oxford Bible Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.)
[7] Drawn from Texts for Preaching: pp. 574-5.
[8] See Elizabeth O’Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward HarperCollins, 1975. I confess I’ve never read the book, but the title alone has moved me for decades. 


Exegetical and Translation Notes
Mark 12:28-34
28One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which[1] commandment is the first of all?”[2]
29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;[3]
30you shall love[4] the Lord your God
with all your heart,[5] and
with all your soul,[6] and
with all your mind,[7] and
with all your strength.’
31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor[8] as yourself.’[9] There is no other commandment greater than these.”[10]
32Then the scribe said to him,[11] “You are right, Teacher;[12] you have truly said that ‘he is one,[13] and besides him there is no other’;[14] 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding,[15] and with all the strength,’[16] and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’[17]—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”[18]
34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely,[19] he said to him, “You are not far[20] from the kingdom of God.”[21] After that no one dared to ask him any question..

[1] “Which” (Poia). Of what sort. “It is a question, not of an individual commandment, but of characteristic quality. The questioner, as conceived by Mark, probably had in view the distinction between ritual and ethical, or positive and moral. The prevalent tendency was to attach special importance to the positive, and to find the greater matters of the law in circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, the rules respecting phylacteries, etc. The opposite tendency, to emphasize the ethical was not unrepresented, especially in the school of Hillel, which taught that the love of neighbor is the kernel of the law. The questioner, as he appears in Mark, leant to this side.” Expositors Greek Testament, ed. Marvin R. Vincent, quoted in Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 237.
[2]“First of all?”(πρώτη πάντων, prōtē pantōn). First in rank and importance. Matthew 22:36 has “greatest.” “Rabbis would often discuss the question of which commandments were heavier (i.e., more important) and which were lighter” (Keener, Craig S., IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament , [(Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press] 1997). Mark quotes Deuteronomy 6:4f. as it stands in the lxx and also Leviticus 19:18. Matthew 22:40 adds the summary: “On these two commandments hangs  the whole law and the prophets.” “The scribes declared that there were 248 affirmative precepts, as many as the members of the human body; and 365 negative precepts, as many as the days in the year, the total being 613, the number of letters in the Decalogue” (Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament).
[3] “‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.’” (Ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν, Kurios ho theos hēmōn kurios heis estin). This is the Shema’ from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (so called from the first word in the Hebrew, “Hear”). “There is no general agreement as to the precise meaning of this saying, for two reasons: (1) it may be that there are two clauses, with the verb ‘is’ implied in the first one, thus—’The Lord (is) our God’; (2) the verb estin ‘is’ at the end of the saying does not define precisely the relation of the second kurios ‘Lord’ to heis  ‘one’, which may be understood either, ‘is on Lord’, or, ‘the Lord is one’” Bratcher, Nida, Handbook on the Gospel of Mark (New York: United Bible Society, 1961), p. 382. The last three words of the expression are the most difficult, translated variously: “The Lord is One,” “is one Lord,” and “is the only Lord.”
[4] “You shall love.” (καὶ ἀγαπήσεις). Verb Indicative Future Active Second Person Singular. That sounds complicated, but the point is that it is a future tense that is “volitive.” That means it expresses a command. It isn’t a request. Wuest calls agapaō a “Holy Spirit generated love…which is due God from His creatures,” as opposed to philcō, “which speaks merely of non-ethical fondness” (Wuest, Word Studies, Vol. 1), p. 238).
[5] “With all your heart” (ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου). Literally, out of your whole heart. “The heart, not only as the seat of the affections, but as the center of our complex being—physical, moral, spiritual, and intellectual” (Vincent). It was considered the “center of all human intellectual activity” (Bratcher/Nida, p. 382)
[6] “Soul” (ψυχή, psuchḗ). Noun feminine. From breath, so (by implication) spirit. The seat of feelings, human soul. “The vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing” (Thayer’s). “The word is often used in the New Testament in its original meaning of life. See Matthew 2:20; 20:28; Acts 20:10; Romans 11:3; John 10:11. Hence, as an emphatic designation of a human being itself. See Matthew 12:18; Hebrews 10:38; Luke 21:19. So that the word denotes ‘life in the distinctness of individual existence’ (Cremer). See øõ÷éêüò, spiritual, 1 Corinthians 15:44” (Vincent’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament).
[7] “Mind” (dianoias, διανοίας). The faculty of thought: cognitive understanding; interestingly, it includes moral understanding. Note that this word is not in the Deut 6:5 passage which is ostensibly being quoted. Instead there is lebhabh “heart,” nephesh “soul,” and me’odh “might.” But no “mind.” This was Jesus’ (or Mark’s) correction. D.E. Nineham says that dianoia  is often used in the lxx as an alternative translation for the Hebrew word here translated heart. The addition no doubt emphasizes the all-embracing character of the required response” St. Mark: Pelican New Testament Commentaries (New York: Penguin Books, 1963), p. 327.
[8] “Neighbor” (plēsion, πλησίον). Normally an adverb, but here used as a noun. Means, of course, neighbor, but more than the person who lives next door. It is a rendering of the Hebrew re’a,  fellow citizen, or in a more general sense, the other person, or fellow human being. In Luke’s version, this story was actually the lead in to the story of the Good Samaritan, addressing the question, “who is my neighbor?”
[9] Leviticus 19:18. This second commandment functions like directions on how to implement the first commandment. Note that the context of Leviticus, out of which it comes is lists of ways to protect the poor and the weak from exploitation (cf. Lev. 19:9-18).
[10] Following Jewish interpretive technique, Jesus links two commandments (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18) by a common key word, “love.” These passages were also linked in Jewish tradition (e.g., Philo), and some other teachers felt that these were the greatest commandments that summarized the law. This was especially true of “Love the Lord your God,” which followed directly on and applied the basic confession of Judaism, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord … is one” (Deut 6:4). IVP Bible Background Commentary).
[11] “And the scribe said…” (καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ γραμματεύς, eipen autōi ho grammateus). Mark is the only one of the Synoptics that has the scribe repeat back (somewhat redundantly) what Jesus had just said about the first and the second commandments (with the additional allusion to 1 Samuel 15:22 about love as superior to whole burnt offerings). Matt. and Luke typically clean up Mark’s repetitive language.
[12] “Teacher (Διδάσκαλε, didaskale, n. sing. masc.). Not Rabbi here, but more generic “teacher.” Derived from the verb, διδάσκω, “to teach.” See also, οὐκ ἔστιν μαθητὴς ὑπὲρ τὸν διδάσκαλον ‘no pupil is greater than his teacher’ Matt. 10:24.
[13] “He is one.” Interesting to note that after this phrase, the Textus recepticus adds “God” (and therefore presumably the kjv), but it is omitted in virtually all modern editions of the Greek text.
[14] “‘He is one, and besides him there is no other.’” Actually a conflation of Deut. 6:4 (the shema’ quoted by Jesus in v. 29), and Deut. 4:35.
[15] “Understanding” (σύνεσις, sunesis). Noun Genitive Feminine Singular. In addition to “Understanding,” also, power of comprehension, insight, intelligence. Meyer calls it the “moral intelligence which comprehends and understands” (Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1858]). Note that this is a different word from “mind” in v. 30, which refers more to cognitive abilities. “From συνίημι, to send or bring together. Hence συνίημι is a union or bringing together of the mind with an object, and so used to denote the faculty of quick comprehension, intelligence, sagacity. Compare συνετῶν, the prudent, Matthew 11:25” (Vincent, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament). After this word, the Textus Recepticus adds, kai ex holēs tēs kardias, “with all the heart,” attempting to make it match up with Jesus’ version of the saying in v. 30. But I know of no modern translation that adds this.
[16] “All your strength” A quote from Deut. 6:5.
[17] “Love one’s neighbor as oneself.” A quote from Lev. 1918.
[18] “More important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” From 1 Samuel 15:22, “But Samuel replied: ‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices/ as much as in obeying the Lord?/ To obey is better than sacrifice/ and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’” TFP notes that this “does not condemn the cultic practices per se, but establishes a clear priority. Love of God and neighbor takes precedence over ritual performance. One might even argue that there is a relativizing of religion here, at least a relativizing of its trappings, ceremonies, and rites. At times they assume what seems like an inordinate amount of time and energy and money, but are set in a penultimate position by the great commandments” (Texts for Preaching: Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B, Walter Brueggemann, et. al. (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1933), -p. 574).
X`[19] “Wisely” (νουνεχῶς, nounechōs). Adverb. It’s from a combination of nous (intellect) and echō (to have). To think Thoughtfully (so net), intellectually. Could also be “discreetly” (as in the kjv), but that’s clearly not the intended meaning here.  Maybe better: He had his wits about him. Only found here in the entire N.T.
[20] “Not far…” (Οὐ μακρὰν, ou makran). Adverb ( in other settings, adjective), feminine accusative. Makran means simply a long way off (though in this case not a long way off). “The man was to some extent intellectually qualified for admission to the Kingdom; certainly he grasped one of its fundamental principles. It would be interesting to work out a comparison between this cribe and the ruler of 10:17. In both cases, something was wanting to convert admiration into discipleship. If wealth was the bar in the one case, pride of intellect may have been fatal in the other. The mental acumen which detects and approves spiritual truth may, in the tragedy of human life, keep its possessor from entering the Kingdom of God” ( Henry Barclay Swete, Mark,  quoted in Wuest, p. 239).
[21] “…from the ‘Kingdom of God’” ([Ou makran ei apo] tēs basileias tou theou).”The Kingdom of God is thought of as a condition, or relationship, into which one enters here and now” (Bratcher/Nida, p. 387).