Friday, October 2, 2015

The Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity

But 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 is the great commandment in the Law?” And 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 great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

In this passage, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus in a legal problem, and he responds with not only the full Law of God but the Gospel as well.  He has just finished trouncing the Sadducees with their silly question about the resurrection.  The Pharisees are much more learned in the scriptures, so they may feel that this is a prefect time to hit Jesus when he is feeling victorious.  A lawyer asks him which is the greatest commandment, knowing the answer, but probably hoping that Jesus will pick one of the 10 Commandments (actually the first commandment and the great commandment are pretty unified) or one of the 600+ application laws in the Old Testament.  The goal is to ridicule Jesus as a theologian.  If we can prove that Jesus has no idea what he is talking about, we can cause his disciples to lose faith in him. 

Jesus answers correctly with the text from Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."  Trap avoided.  However, Jesus then comes in for a left hook.  This second commandment is so familiar to us, that we think that the two great commandments are always paired together, but this second commandment is from Leviticus 19:18: "And a second is like it," Jesus says: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these TWO commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."  This is true.  We can break the ten commandments into two tables: the first four are about loving God (the first great commandment) and the other six are about loving our neighbor (the second commandment).  But Jesus is not adding this second great commandment to "fill in the gap" so to speak.  He's not telling the Pharisees that they "forgot" the other half of the great commandments of the Law.  He is sharing something with them that they didn't know. We know that they don't know the second great commandment, because they do not KEEP the second great commandment.  They do not love their neighbors as themselves.  In fact, they won't even take care of their parents, if they can get away with it.  They tithe the money they would have used for their parents to the temple.  They are going to keep that first, great commandment at all costs, even at the expense of their neighbors.  What Jesus is saying here is that if one does not keep this second commandment, one does not truly love God--one is not keeping the first commandment either.

We show that we love God by loving our neighbor.  If we try to keep the law in order to please God, we will fail, because we are sinners.  However, God gives us works to do on earth, in our lives.  These works are not works that save us.  They are works that prove that we have been saved.  God gives us work to do, and at first they don't seem like a big deal.  God has given us our spouse, our kids, our boss at work and anyone working under us.  There's the guy at the coffee shop that we see every morning, the guy who fixes our car, the lady at Staples. God has put these people in our lives for us to love as ourselves, not in a romantic way, but in a self-sacrificial way, in a gospel-sharing way.  These are the works that God has given us to do: every day life--exactly the thing that the world says is NOT important.  They will say you need to make a great business deal, so you can conquer one of the seven mountains and get Christians into high places of power, etc.  You don't have to search for the things God wants you to do.  God gave them to you already.

But if we are sinners, how are we able to do these works?  If the Pharisees, keepers of the Law, are unable to love their neighbors.  What chance do WE have?  Here's where Christ comes in with a question of his own:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in 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 then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)

His question for them is a question for us: "What do you think about the Christ?"  Stop right there.  He's about to give them a question they can't answer, stumping them again, but let's stop right at that first question.  "What do you think about the Christ?"  Do you see what Jesus has just done?  He has given us the Law--not just A law, but the whole Law, the summary of the Law--and now he is giving us the Gospel.  What is the Law?  Love God with everything you got and love your neighbor as yourself.  How do we respond to the law?  We sin.  We fail.  We break the law with everything we got.  Jesus then asks, how do you respond to the Christ?  This is the Gospel.  The Law shows us our sin.  All we've got left is the Gospel.  What do you think of the Christ?  Who is he?  Whose son is he?  Do you have the right Gospel?  Do you have the right messiah?  Who is he?  Jesus.  He is the messiah.  The anointed one.  The Law crushes you, the Christ sets you free.  Who is he?  The Pharisees respond that he is the son of David, revealing that they only think of the Christ as a man.  Jesus then shows them through Psalm 110 that the Christ is not only fully man but is fully God, too.  Jesus shows them the full and true nature of Christ: fully divine and fully human.  This is necessary, because an only-human messiah can only save one person by living a sin-free existence.  A fully-divine messiah can save everyone.

The Pharisees can't respond, because they don't get it.  They hadn't even understood the full law, either.  Many churchgoers today don't get the simple truth: it doesn't matter how you respond to the Law, what matters is how you respond to the Gospel.  The Law shows us our sin.  Our response to the Christ can only be repentance and faith.  He took our full sin upon himself on the cross.  He is the only way we can be saved.  Everytime we fail at loving our neighbor, we should be reminded that we don't love God.  Everytime we hear the Gospel, we should be reminded that God loves us and forgives us our sins.  Our response is true repentance.  Repentance is not a work but a sign that we have been forgiven.

What do you think about the Christ?  Do you know Jesus Christ, the one the Bible proclaims?  Unbiblical Christs are proclaimed every day, but do you know the one of the Holy Scriptures?  Only by him are we saved.  He is God himself, full divine and fully human.  Fully human so that he could be tempted, as we are, yet keep the commandments and die on our behalf.  Fully divine so that he could rise again, save us from all our sins, and give us eternal life.  How do you respond to the Christ?  Repent and be forgiven.