This is the third straight week that we are working our way through the revelation rich 22nd Chapter of Matthew. Once again Jesus is head to head with the leadership of the temple. They are trying to take him down. He is trying to lift them up.
Jesus has been fielding tough questions aimed at tripping him, discrediting him… finding grounds to condemn him. This time it’s the Pharisees turn to give it their best shot. They know that the Sadducees had just struck out trying to nail Jesus on a fine point of Mosaic Law. So they brought in their heavy hitter, a scholar specializing in all the intricacies of law and tradition, prophecy and religious practice. They are confident that his brilliance will destroy this Nazarene bumpkin.
You can hear the sarcasm dripping as the legal lion addresses Jesus as “Master.” He wants to draw this carpenter into an elevated discussion of law so he can expose Jesus as a presumptuous hick who’s way out of his depth daring to banter with the big boys. Pity the proud lawyer. He came to shoot fish in a barrel and found he was up against, quite literally, the original, original thinker. Rather than get drawn into verbal jousting over old covenant law, Jesus lays out the basis for an entirely new covenant. And he does it in just two sentences:
Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.
Two thousand years later, the brilliance and the brevity of these essential concepts of Christianity are still breathtaking. The Ten Commandments and twenty-seven chapters of Leviticus were dominated by a laundry list of “shall not’s.” The Old Testament is an encyclopedia of transgressions and punishments. And then in two sentences the entire dynamic of our relationship with God is redefined. The entire purpose of life is laid out clearly and succinctly. The guidelines for all human behavior are summarized in two easily understand instructions.
Gone is the endless recitation of “shall not’s.” And in its stead, the imperative to love is the new paradigm. Avoiding evil now becomes the natural byproduct of doing good. We are commanded to live bold lives of action, not timid lives of avoidance. More recently that basic Christian concept has been boiled down still further, into only four letters…WWJD… What Would Jesus Do? And from his life, death and Resurrection, we know the answer. Like Jesus, we humbly, gratefully praise God and serve our neighbor. We witness the love of Christ to all we meet.
Jesus easily answers the scholars’ toughest questions. They are confounded by his wisdom. Then they are thunderstruck by the follow-up questions he puts to them: What do they think of the Messiah? Whose son is he? When they answer that the Messiah is the son of David, Jesus asks them: How can that be if David calls the Messiah Lord? His implication is clear. The Christ, the Messiah is the Son of God, not the Son of David. The answer is suddenly evident and yet it had escaped their studies and endless debate. How can this be? They are the powerful and the privileged. They have all the answers. And here is this nobody, comfortably quoting scripture, effortlessly swatting their questions back at them. Hey, maybe there’s something to those reports about miracles? Maybe he’s more than a carpenter’s son?
As Matthew records: After that day no one was brave enough to ask him any more questions. They had found that the trouble with tough questions is that they elicit tough answers. And ready or not… the answer is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. It’s not what they expected. It’s not what they wanted. But clearly, it was and is the truth. Embrace him. Rejoice in him. Jesus not only knows the answers to the tough questions… he is the answer to life’s toughest questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? He is the love of God incarnate. In him our lives have meaning and direction. In him we are saved. And, in the end, that’s the only answer that really counts.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.