(and also the 700th post on this blog)
Trinity 18 – October 3rd, 20101 – Matthew 22:36-46
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
The practical, the simple historical, human reason for why Jesus is crucified is that He embarrasses people. Our Gospel text for this morning happens in holy week, after Palm Sunday. And there is Jesus in Jerusalem – He had been healing and teaching out in the countryside, out in the boonies – but now He’s in the big city, and of course the city folks think they are going to show this bumpkin from Nazareth a thing or two. The Sadducees in the passage before our text had tried. They failed. And so then we hear this – “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.” The Pharisees now think it is their turn, and they are going to give Jesus a humdinger. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Now, this is actually a fine way to set a trap for someone. You ask them to list the best, and then what you do is you trash them for belittling whatever they don’t answer. For example, if you are asked, “Who is your favorite child” – you can’t answer that without opening up yourself to criticism. This question asked by this lawyer should open up the door to nagging and mockery. This is why it is a test.
Jesus sidesteps the question and gives a true answer, explaining the Law. “’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.” Do you see what Jesus does? He cuts off complaining. Yes, the greatest commandment is to love God – but if you love God, automatically you will love your neighbor, because these two ideas, loving God, loving the neighbor, are so intricately tied together that they cannot be separated, and anyone who would try to separate them is foolish and wrong. Now, as good little Lutherans who have learned the Catechism, and especially as people who have been paying attention the last 8 weeks during the catechism lessons, we know this. The first commandment is You shall have no other gods before Me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Or in other words, love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Have proper respect for God, acknowledge the salvation He has given you, and place your trust upon Him. Good. And the rest of the commands are like this one. How are we to love our neighbor – well, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. What does this mean. . .:We should fear and love God…” Do you see the connection? Every commandment, every instruction about God’s Law flows this way. We are to love God, and in our love for God, we are to show Love to our neighbor according to the standards that God has set and established. In fact, loving our neighbor is demonstrating our love for God.
This is a hard, hard truth. I don’t think we really think about how harsh and rough a standard this connection between loving God and loving the neighbor really sets. We like to compartmentalize our lives. We like to think that we are good, nice people. After all, we love God. We show up to Church... see how good we are. Or, even if we are too busy to make it all the time… oh, well, um, I read the bible, that makes me a good Christian. Um, I pray, sometimes. . . that makes me a good Christian. I’ll read the portals of prayer… or at least I read the religious e-mail forwards I get, oh what a good Christian am I. Our standards of loving God, of paying attention to God, are utterly horrid. If I were to be completely honest and blunt in describing our personal devotion to God, I would probably have to use choice vulgarities to express how wretched it is. We’ll spend an hour or two, maybe three a week thinking about God, 3 out of 168, and my, we are such good people. No we aren’t, we just set low standards for ourselves. Our devotion is weak – but still we think, “Ah, I am a good little Christian.”
But here’s the real kicker – here’s where the Law really hits home. A second commandment is like the first – you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Do you see what this means? How you treat your neighbor is how you treat God. Did you complain about your neighbor this week? Then in reality, you were complaining about the God who put that neighbor in your life. Did you yell at your neighbor this week? Then in reality, you were yelling at God. Did you hate your neighbor in any way this week? Then in reality, you were hating God, who gave you that neighbor to love. Did you ignore or brush off your neighbor in any way this week? Then in reality, you were ignoring and brushing of God – because He is the One who put that neighbor into your life. We can’t compartmentalize our lives – we can’t spend an hour a week in Church and say, “That’s it, I’ve done my duty for God” and then go and be jerks the rest of the week and feel all self-satisfied about how we are such nice, good, people. To sin against the neighbor is to sin against God.
And the thing of it is – the unbelievers, they get this. They understand the connection. What do we hear from people who don’t believe in God, who don’t come to Church? Oh, those Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites. They say that they are all about love, but then look what they do – hypocrites! And they are right! And of course this is made all the worse when we spend time blowing our own horn because of some simple acts of kindness we do. So you were nice once – well what about the rest of the time? They see the disdain, the hatred, the lack of mercy or compassion that we have those other 167 hours of the week when we are running around out there, and they put two and two together. And they despise God because of our despicable acts. They use our sinful, selfish attitudes as the excuse to ignore and hate God. And why? Because we will flaunt how wonderful WE are when we aren’t. Because we forget that our love for God isn’t expressed, isn’t displayed merely by showing up to this place on Sunday, but it is shown in how we love our neighbor. This is the utter truth of the Law, this is what Christ our Lord teaches us today, and if we are honest, if we stop pretending and assuming that we are wonderful people, we will see how far we fall short of this standard.
After dropping this huge Law bombshell, our Lord asks a question of the Pharisees. Whose son is the Christ? The Son of David. Well then, “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?” When you hear “LORD” here – think God, think Jehovah. How can David call his Son, the Christ, LORD? How can David call his Son God? Now, the Pharisees, who are determined to remain self righteous, who reject Christ’s teaching about the fullness of the Law, they have no answer to this, because it is incomprehensible to them. It makes no sense – your son is lower than you, how could David’s Son, who is lower than him, be God? How could God be lower, be a servant unto man?
And here is the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t that the Law goes away, the Gospel isn’t that we get to ignore the Law. The Gospel is this – that God becomes Man, that Christ Jesus, both David’s Son and David’s LORD, comes into this world, and He accomplishes for you what you could not. Do you love God with your whole heart and soul and mind? The answer is no. Does Christ Jesus love the Father with His whole Heart and Soul and Mind? Yes indeed. Do you love your neighbor as yourself? No. But does Christ Jesus love you, His neighbor, as He loves Himself, indeed, does He love you more than He loves His own life? For your sake, knowing that you could not obtain heaven or salvation upon your own, Christ Jesus lays down His own life, goes to the cross, bears up the weight, the burden, the punishment of your sin, all for your sake. The cross is His love for you. It is His gift to you. The Son obeys the Father’s will, and you receive salvation. Your sin demands your death and punishment, but Christ Jesus, your Brother and Your LORD has been crucified, so there is no more punishment for you. He has been raised, promising you your own resurrection. And this has nothing to do with how good or how wretched you are – thanks be to God! It is all about how good and wondrous and loving He is.
He teaches you this with His Supper this morning. What is this Supper? It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink? Even now, Jesus does not remain high and mighty, but rather He comes down to you, comes to you in a way in which you can feel and taste and touch and receive. And why? So that you are able to receive forgiveness and life and salvation, that your faith is strengthened, that you who are weak in love may grow in faith towards God and love toward the neighbor (for the two are tied together). And what makes this Supper the Supper? Is it here because we are such wonderful people? Does Christ show up here because we are just that good? No – Christ is present in His Supper because in His Word He promised to be. This Supper isn’t about you, about your strength and love and works that you do for God. This Supper is Christ for you, it is about His strength and love and works that He has done for you. And that is our focus, our constant cry and refrain. Yes, indeed, I am a sinner, yes indeed, I am a hypocrite, yes indeed, I do not show love like I ought. But Christ Jesus my Lord is no sinner, yet for sinners like me He died. Christ Jesus my Lord is no hypocrite, for He practiced what He preached when He was nailed to the cross to win forgiveness for my sin. But Christ Jesus my Lord shows love in taking His forgiveness and giving it to me, to you, to all the world through His most precious Word, through His gifts of Baptism and His Supper. You, my dear friends, do fail, but Christ does not, not ever, and that is your hope and faith.
And so my dear friends – do not become complacent with yourself. Do not become lazy in love, do not forget that loving God shown by loving your neighbor. Strive to do more good works, to show love better. But above all, remember Christ Jesus, Who did not simply rest in heaven, but Who for you and your salvation came down from heaven, Who worked tirelessly on your behalf to win you forgiveness, who works tirelessly to have that forgiveness given to you now, Who loves you totally and completely, and who makes you to be His own both now and eternally. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +