Matthew 22:34–46 (NRSV)
The Greatest Commandment
(Mk 12:28–34; Lk 10:25–28)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The Question about David’s Son
(Mk 12:35–37; Lk 20:41–44)
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
If you were to know the one thing, the secret to life, or the revelation of the mystery if the universe how excited would you be? Would you share this knowledge with others or would it be something you would keep to yourself?
For the past couple of weeks, we have been hearing the teaching and parables of Jesus during his last week of ministry. The religious leaders, government officials and everyone of importance in the political spheres of Jerusalem were present, listening, and testing Jesus.
They were testing him for a very good reason. They had set up a lucrative religious tourism business surrounding the temple. There were sacrificial animals to be bought, temple currency to be exchanged everything a person would need to make their worship experience complete. And Jesus came in and trashed the place. Their entire religious system was threatened. The very core of the Jerusalem economy was threatened. Who gave this traveling preacher the authority to cause such a disruption?
The Pharisees, Sadducees, the Herodians, the lawyers, and everyone that profited from this system joined together to challenge Jesus. One by one the challenges fell. Each one was redirected or a clever parable was given to show not only the answer but the hypocrisy of the religious leaders.
Each group sent in their champions. It was an epic battle of the minds like that of David and Goliath. Each champion fell short before Jesus. So today they send in the lawyers. Consider this for a moment. They sent in the theologians the ones that knew the scriptures and the implications of each interpretation. Each major group challenged Jesus attempting to cause Jesus to speak in some way that they could discredit him publically. Each group challenged using key arguments from each denominational tradition. They even attempted to prove that Jesus was attempting to start a revolutionary movement against the Roman Empire. Each of those movements failed to corner Jesus, so now they send in the lawyers to place Jesus up against the one thing all the groups agree on, the law provided to them through Moses.
This shrewd lawyer stands before Jesus and asks, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” According to the religious traditions this is a very loaded question. The teachings of all the major denominations of the first century Jewish faith make no distinction between the laws. Each is equally important and to break one is to break them all. We often feel that this is the teaching of Jesus alone but it was the common understanding. By asking Jesus this question this lawyer was attempting to corner Jesus by some indication that he would place moral or ceremonial law above another. Which the religious leader could then use to challenge Jesus’ authority before the people. Which commandment is greatest.
The interesting thing is Jesus did not even hesitate with this answer. He did not make any comment about the intelligence of the challenger, he simply answered the question. “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Without hesitation Jesus gave this answer. This answer is what scholars say is the closest thing to the creed of the Jewish faith, because it is the Shema. “Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one. You shall love the lord with all heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Jesus then say, “the second is like it: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
When we look at this we might say Jesus gave two commands not one. But this is one of the weird things about language, when Jesus said the second is like he is saying that the first commandment, the creed of Israel, is equivalent or the same as the second statement. To love God is to love your neighbor and to love your neighbor is to love God.
If we were to look at all Jesus’ teachings, they would all center on this same theme. Jesus goes on to say that all the law and teachings of the prophets hang on this. The entire law, every statement of the prophets from Moses to Jeremiah, from Daniel to John the Baptist, and to Jesus himself revolve or are dependent on these things. Life with God depends on love for and to God and to humanity or all of creation.
Everything we believe or say we believe hinge on this one thing self sacrificial love. It is active participatory love. It is building and restoring relationships. Every thing about the Christian life revolves around loving God and humanity. There is no room for hate, because every person is created in the image of God so to hate anyone is to hate the image possessed by that person.
Let that sink in for a moment. Do we live that way? Do we actively show love to our neighbors? Or even a more revealing question, do we live ourselves as image bearers of God?
In that one statement Jesus shut down the lawyer’s attempt to trap him. Leaving the lawyer without any fuel to continue the fight. If all the law, both moral and ceremonial hinge on this statement what else is there? This is the exact defense that any lawyer would give if asked. So, the lawyer faded back into the crowd of religious leaders who were still gathered close by.
Jesus looks up and seeing no further test he poses one to them, “What do you think of the messiah? Whose son, is he?” This question probably caught the leaders off guard. They were discussing everything from theology to politics, and then Jesus asks this seemingly simple question, a question that even the youngest boy in Hebrew school could answer. Whose son is the Messiah. It is obvious that the king would be from the line of David. This is an established fact that was confirmed through the words and actions of the prophets of old. This is the reason the kept track of their linages especially if they happen to have a heritage from the royal line. Suddenly the leaders are caught off guard, they wonder and search their minds to see If maybe they had missed something in their learning. Did they overlook something important? Jesus then says, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord…”
They are silenced. How can the promised king of the linage of David be the Lord of David? This turns all of history upside down. David looked toward the promised messiah as his Lord while the contemporaries of Jesus were looking back. David looked forward with great anticipation knowing that the glory of Israel is in the future. He is humbled to be used by God to be one of the men who would participate in this great linage but he knows that it is in this promised king that glory resides. David in the Spirit wrote in a psalm, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’.” Imagine that statement in your mind. David the great king of Israel, has some vision of glory and he sees God speaking to David’s Lord. God and this anticipated king are speaking together face to face, and God asks him to sit with Him at his right hand. Then God says that he will place all the Lord’s enemies under his feet. Even this psalm shows that the anticipated kingdom is not exactly what we as humans imagine. God is the one that is going to do the work. The enemies are going to be put under the Lord’s feet not by the military might of a king but by God. And the Lord that David speaks of is Lord not by his earthly power but by his relationship with God and through that relationship, humanity.
Whose son is the Messiah? What command is greatest? What is our purpose? What is the secret of life and the revelation of the mysteries of the universe? It is all summed up in one word, love. This one word is the active self-sacrificing care given to others. We give our all to God, we give our all to serve those that God loves. Everything else in static and clutter. It is just money changing tables set up in the courts of the temple. It is not about you or me but us and God. Are we doing all we can to encourage others? Are we doing all we can to honor God? If we do that the psalm tells us that all the enemies we perceive will be put under our feet. This is through God’s action not our own. Our action is to give self sacrificially to the care of all those around us.
After Jesus spoke these things the religious leaders were speechless. They did not dare to answer Jesus’ questions or ask another of their own. Jesus would then leave the temple, and teach the people about the hypocrisy of these religious leaders. These leaders that know so much yet know nothing. With all their knowledge they missed the most important things of life. It is not about the shows of success, it is not even about success. Life is simply about loving. It is about the intentional care we give to those God brings to us at this moment. As we enter into this time of open worship let us focus on that secret of life. It is not about what we get but what we give. The measure of success is how well we love.
Sermon by Jared Warner
Presented at Willow Creek Friends Church, Kansas City MO on October 29th, 2017
Love Lets Go of Power, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55273 [retrieved October 28, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/taniwha/7186824/.