(for the Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost, October 26, 2014)
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 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.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’”?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:34-46, NRSV).
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’
It is a good question. So many laws. Which one really gets to the heart of all we believe?
Yet, once again, it is asked with less than genuine intent. Another test. Some don’t know when to say ‘enough’…
It says a lot about Jesus that he answers so genuinely. Whether from false or true motive this query is worthy of a considered answer. Jesus’ reply is certainly that…
Jesus answer is one whole. Certainly there is order and progression. But there is not a break, a reconsideration, two separate answers. There is ‘first’ and ‘second’ but a sense of continuation and similarity between them. It is like Jesus is describing both sides of the proverbial coin: ‘Love your God…’; ‘Love you neighbour…’.
This is somewhat important. Jesus was asked for a number one commandment. He offered two. One is insufficient. There are two hooks from which the ‘law and the prophets’ are hung. One is not a full enough answer.
Love of God is first, however. And it is also all consuming. This will take all one’s heart, soul, and mind. All of oneself.
Not, however, in a way that leaves nothing for others. Jesus, as so much of his teaching attested, understood God-love to lead to neighbour-love. Perhaps neighbour-love sits within God-love. A smaller circle enclosed within the larger. I guess this is why Jesus cannot answer without the two. What if people tried to separate them? What if one excluded the other?
After this wonderful answer the Pharisees gather. Perhaps they discuss a reply. Perhaps the setting of another trap. Either way, it is now Jesus playing offence: ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They echo Peter’s Jesus’ earlier question: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ This is no periphery, semi-relevant line of questioning. It draws these religious leaders into the heart of Jesus’ ministry. It guides them back to Peter’s God-given answer: ‘You are the Messiah’.
The Pharisees relate the expected Messiah to David. But Jesus wants more. His exegesis of the psalm points them beyond mere ‘Son of David’ theology. Jesus is not denying the connection. He is pointing to more. Certainly, ‘one greater than Solomon is here’. Perhaps Jesus wants them to think in similar terms of their most influential king. One greater than David is here.
Wisely they pose no more tests. But why, with someone among them answering so well, do they not search for the humility to come back with more genuine concerns?
Clearly we have the capacity – even before God’s Messiah – to be frightfully compromised. Deafness to God can be quite complete.