October 26th Scripture Setting: Matthew 22: 34-46
The Pharisee in this story likely witnessed Jesus’ put-down of the Sadducees (Matthew 22:23–33) and asks a follow-up question. It is unclear why he asks the question. He may have wanted to trap Jesus or even go deeper in his own relationship with God. Whatever the reason behind his question, Jesus responded with an answer that went deeper than the Pharisee wanted to go.
Jesus’ response is straightforward, honest, and theologically sound. It is interesting that with this response he silences the Pharisees (v. 46) just as he had silenced the Herodians and the Sadducees (v. 34). But there is more to this text than putting the Pharisees in their proper place. Jesus’ answer is drawn from the oldest of Jewish tradition; he cites one of the foundational texts from Hebrew Scripture—the shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–5). Second, he references an obscure addendum concerning interpersonal relationships from Leviticus 19:18. These two texts frame the entire law, and for Jesus to cite them not only displays his superior knowledge of the law, but also his depth of understanding.
Jesus’ quote of the shema sets the groundwork for the second law; if we love God we will of course love our neighbor. Jesus understands the only way we can show our love of God to God is through loving our neighbor, and the only way we can bear witness to others that we love God is to love them. The Pharisees understand this and they are given food for thought by Jesus’ answer.
Jesus asks the next questions, “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” (v. 42). The Pharisees don’t have answers for Jesus, but Christians will understand from Jesus’ explanation that the Messiah transcends the predicament the Jews were experiencing. The Messiah is both the son of David and Lord of David; he is great and he is servant. In this explanation—just as Jesus framed the law with two verses, the shema and the most obscure—Jesus frames all of creation in himself. Jesus shows his interrogators the law is no savior; it is no Messiah. The true Messiah transcends religious and ethnic boundaries and is not contained in a book of rules. Accordingly, those who follow Jesus must also cross the boundaries Jesus crosses toward justice for all of creation, and they must love their neighbor, which is loving God.
Jesus’ judgment of the Pharisees is the same judgment of the church today. To love our neighbor as we love ourselves the church must be willing to engage with other faith communities, even other religions and secular groups, to discern God’s will for their community and those with whom they live. By engaging with one another and God, the witness of God’s love will be lived out in the actions of the faithful community that loves the neighbor and serves. As Jesus continues his journey to the cross, we come to understand that in loving one another and surrendering our agenda for Christ’s agenda of self-sacrificing love we discover who we truly are.
Worship Helps 10/19/2014)