28 Then one of the scribes approached him. He had been listening to the discussion, and noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he put this question to him, “What are we to consider the greatest commandment of all?” 29-31“The first and most important one is this,” Jesus replied—‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength’. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. No other commandment is greater than these.” Phillips
This is one of the few times Jesus immediately responded to a question from the crowd. Clearly, Jesus knew this learned man was genuinely seeking an honest response; this was no trick. It was also a ‘softball’ question. Many in the crowd knew the answer.
Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4-5—4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength. NET The second half of the answer comes from Leviticus 19:18. You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. NET
The line; You must love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength, is the first line of the Jewish Shema. The Shema opens morning and evening prayers and all synagogue services. It is a recitation of Deuteronomy 6:5-9, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41.
Initially, the Shema consisted of only Deuteronomy 6:5, probably during the Babylonian captivity. By the time of Jesus, it was generally in the form still used today.
32-33 “I am well answered,” replied the scribe. “You are absolutely right when you say that there is one God and no other God exists but him; and to love him with the whole of our hearts, the whole of our intelligence and the whole of our energy, and to love our neighbours as ourselves is infinitely more important than all these burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” Phillips
You may notice that the Scribe used different wording; he did not parrot Jesus. The reason? Scribes were professional wordsmiths. The best could write in Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin with vocabularies in the 100,000-word range in each. It was second nature to go beyond the expected. Otherwise, why pay him to write for you. As well educated as Paul was, he still paid scribes to write most of his letters because he wanted just the right words to express the theology.
There is another consideration.
34 Then Jesus, noting the thoughtfulness of his reply, said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God!” After this nobody felt like asking him any more questions. Phillips
I don’t think that Jesus was taken by surprise. He knew the scribe was an honest man and I suspect Jesus was pleased that the scribe was willing to go to the trouble to paraphrase the Scripture. Jesus knew he was not just showing off. Besides, the scribe was a welcome relief from the badgering Pharisees.
We do need to consider two more points. The scribe was critical of the Temple worship, built as it was around burnt offerings and sacrifice. Jesus may have agreed with that statement in general terms, knowing that his sacrifice would replace those in Jerusalem. But he never spoke against sacrifices as such and often encouraged people to go to the priests and make the proper sacrifice after being healed of leprosy, etc.
How far from the Kingdom was the scribe? Jesus said, ‘not far.’ Is that as close as Peter? Closer than Judas? We cannot know exactly, but it is not something Jesus said of very many people. Hilary of Poitiers has this thought. The scribe, therefore, is not far from the kingdom of God when he acknowledges the one God who is to be loved above all things. But he is admonished by his own confession in that he does not fully grasp the mystery of the law as being fulfilled in Christ. ACCS
I’ll give Augustine the last word. This virtue consists in nothing else but in loving what is worthy of love. ACCS
Be righteous and do good.