Friday 8th April – Mark 12:28-34 ‘The greatest’

In sports journalism nowadays the word GOAT has become one of the most likely you’ll see, especially online. Which might seem odd to you if you’re not a sports fan: what do goats have to do with professional sport?  The clue is in the capitals: GOAT is an acronym, which stands for Greatest Of All Time.  It allows sports fans endlessly to debate which of their heroes is the greatest – or, I should say, the Goat.  Are Messi or Ronaldo better than Pele, Maradona or Cruyff?  Is Lewis Hamilton now the Goat in the world of motorsport?  And so on…

As a sports nut myself, I’m not averse to these discussions: but I have to admit that today, we get to focus on a much more important Goat: which is the greatest commandment of all time?  Of all the wisdom that God gave humanity, which is top of the pile?  This is exactly the question that a particular teacher of the law asks Jesus.  It seems that this teacher is acting on his own initiative (and therefore not overtly connected to a partisan faction), nor is he motivated by underhand plotting: he notices that ‘Jesus had given them a good answer’ so he asks a real, deep, genuine question: in commandment terms, what is the Goat?

It’s a good, clear question, and Jesus gives him a fabulous, clear answer: the greatest is to love God; the next is to love your neighbour.  Unlike previous verbal sparrings, what Jesus says is not a controversial answer, either, and the teacher agrees wholeheartedly: ‘Well said!’  He goes further by noting that these commandments to love are what God had really always wanted all along – a religious system built on offerings and sacrifices had often been prone to missing the point of these offerings and sacrifices: they were meant to be expressions of the heart that gave them.

God had reminded his people of this numerous times in the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 51:16-17), and whilst, thanks to Jesus, we are now free from the sacrificial system – all fulfilled by the cross – we too can fall into a similar trap.  We can turn our relationship to God into a set of do’s and don’ts, or a sequence of transactions.  This simple teaching of Jesus brings us back to the heart – literally the heart – of the matter.  Love God, and love others.  It’s easy to say and much harder to do!  But for all that, it is simply profound: if we aim for this, we’re not going to go too far wrong.

So today, make a simple resolution: to love God as much as you can, and to love others as an overflow of that love.  Then pray for God’s help to do it – and go for it!  As a guide to living, it’s the GOAT.