Mark recorded that religious leaders were worried enough about Jesus and his heretical teachings to start testing Him out. Up to then, they had just ignored this itinerant prophet. They asked Him all sorts of questions, trying to make His heresies clear to those who listened. At the end of Mark 12, Jesus at last found a religious leader with whom He was in sympathy.
The “teacher of the law” in verse 28 asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. This in itself was close to the edge because, to a religious teacher whose position in society meant observing all the laws equally, there could not be a “most important” one. Jesus picked an obscure part of the Old Testament law, Leviticus 19:18 if you want to check, to add to the phrase that gets 35 million hits on Google: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…”
When He had assembled His answer, the questioner praised Him and said that it was more important to love God and your neighbour than to make any religious observation. In reply, Jesus said that the questioner was close to heaven.
Is this the only recorded example of someone praising Jesus and telling Him that He was right? It is certainly not the first time that religious observance is dismissed in the Bible.
Over the years, the church has drifted closer to religious observation and further from loving our neighbours. Ask anyone how they can tell if someone loves them. It is not sufficient to say “I love you”, although some Christians spend much of their time telling God just this in their hymns and prayers. As the Quakers say: “The service begins when the meeting has ended.”
Religious observation is important if it reminds us of our calling to care for everyone and for God’s creation; it is pointless if it does neither. It may be valuable in transmitting our beliefs and values to our children, although the age profile of churches in Britain would indicate otherwise. It cannot be sufficient to transmit those values. They have to be demonstrated in our daily lives.
So the question: “how should we worship?” is of much less importance than the question: “how should we love?” The question about loving is important because the answer will bring us closer to heaven.
To love other people is to be in heaven, ask any lover. To tell people how they ought to live and worship is the sort of thing Pharisees do.
God, help us to love!