“Which commandment is the first of all?”
A scribe, thus a well-educated person asked the question. And it is a good question—an important question: What does God want us to do? What is the foundation of a Christian life? What is the one commandment that sums up our religious practice?
Jesus has the answer and offers it immediately. Jesus knew this particular commandment well. When this scribe asks him, “Which commandment is first of all? Jesus has the answer right on the tip of his tongue. Jesus does not hesitate.
‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
Jesus’ answer really is the correct answer. The minute he said it everyone knew he was right. It’s directly from the scripture they knew so well, Deuteronomy 6.4-6. They all could recite it from memory—it was the first scripture verse many of them ever memorized. On the doorposts of our own Barnes Memorial Chapel where Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation worships you will find this commandment in a small case with Jewish religious symbols on it. It is called a mezuzah and it contains this verse that Jews call the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.”