Trinity 18 – Matthew 22:34-46 – October 19th, 2014
In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord +
In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord +
Arrogance is one of the most dangerous things in the world. Think on what you yourself have done when you've been arrogant, when you've been over confident. Think on the times when you've been sure you were right, only to find out you were wrong – when you knew that you were better than the other person, only to have to eat humble pie. One of my favorite lines from a movie deals with this – Your mouth's writing checks your body can’t cash. Arrogance can leave a person in a world of hurt.
The Pharisees approach Jesus with a spirit of arrogance today. But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked a question to test Him. The Pharisees and Sadducees didn't get along well – they were almost like two opposing political parties, two rival factions. And so the Pharisees in Jerusalem hear that Jesus has just smacked down the Sadducees – and with arrogance they think, “Ah, well, where they've failed, we'll do better! And we'll put this Jesus in His place!” And so, they decide to test Jesus. They ask a question – Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? Trap question. Trap question. When you are asked to pull out one item, you are simply opening yourself up to criticism. For example – if I were to ask which is more important, Baptism or the Lord's Supper – if I were to be mean and cruel, I could criticize you no matter what you said – by defending what you didn't pick. Or if you are asked which of your children you love most – you can't answer that safely. No answer will be a good one. So this is the question that Jesus is asked. The only thing is – He was addressed as Teacher. If He's the Teacher, if He is this wise Rabbi, He should know the answer to such a simple question – so Jesus isn't allowed to not answer either. It is such a delicate trap.
So Jesus doesn't let them spring it. He doesn't answer the question. Which commandment? He doesn't give a commandment – rather He explains what all the commandments mean. “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.” Brilliant. Alright – first I'll explain the great commandment – Love God. Completely. And just in case you might complain about ignoring the neighbor – the second one is like, is tied into it. Love your neighbor. And that's everything in the Law – everything else written in God's Law is just an expansion, and explanation of these two ideas.
Love God, Love your neighbor. Jesus kind of boils it down rather simply there, doesn't He? Yet, we make it hard, quite often, don't we? Love God, Love your neighbor. There's one thing not on there that we wish were – Jesus doesn't say “Love your neighbor, if you want to.” He doesn’t say, “What does your heart tell you?” Love God, Love your neighbor. And that, dear friends, is where the rubber meets the road in our lives. Love God – but what about then times when God doesn't let everything in your life go as you planned? Love God – but what about when you don't like the way things turn out? Sometimes we don't want to love God because things didn't go our way. Same thing with the neighbor. Love your neighbor. Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor if it is easy. Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor if they are nice and will love you back. Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor after you've taken good care of everything you want. Love your neighbor.
Love God, Love your neighbor. Simple. Covers everything – every question of what you should or shouldn't do – all of those times you aren't sure what to do – ask yourself – how do I best show love to God and to my neighbor – and you'll see what you ought to do. What you ought to do. But the doing is hard. The doing, doesn't get done. The best laid plans of mice and men both wither away and crumble. We are frail people – frail mentally and emotionally and spiritually and physically – and the simple fact is we don't always do what we know, what we know we ought. Think on the times you've given advice – how often has it been the case where the person asking for your help knew what they needed to do – just didn't want to do it and were hoping you would give them an excuse not to? That's the way we work. We don't fulfill the Law – and while we are still in this life on earth – we're not going to. Oh we are to strive to do so – we are to try to show love – in fact we are to support and encourage each other in showing love. And there are times we do actually do this, but there's always more to do – and it's always more than I want to do. And the Law always demands more and more – and we are left broken and beaten, tired and spent.
Then, Jesus decides that He should ask the Pharisees a question. It's not a trap – but rather, He's going to make them realize something. 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 here at my right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.' If then David calls Him Lord, how is he his son?” This is the question that Jesus asks of the Pharisees. And we know the answer – He is David's Son according to the flesh, for He was born of the line and house of David – but He is David's Lord because He is God – the Messiah would be Emmanuel, God with Us – God in Human Flesh – so He is both David's Son and David's Lord. We know and see that Christ is claiming to be both True God and True Man right here.
Here's the thing, dear friends. The Pharisees knew it too! And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions. The Pharisees knew their scripture. The Pharisees knew the bible – and the idea that the Messiah would be God is no mystery. Even Eve knew it! When Cain is born – most translations drop the ball here – but when Cain is born Eve says - “I have gotten a man – the LORD” Eve thinks she's given birth to God Himself – and well, we all know that Cain wasn't the messiah. But Eve knew that God would be born from among her descendants, for that was the promise made in the garden of Eden. That was the promise made to Abraham to bless all the world through His Seed – through the Messiah that would be a descendant of him. All the prophets in pointing to the Messiah proclaim that He would be God visiting His people.
And this is what Jesus points out to these Pharisees. Who is the Messiah going to be? He is going to be True God and True Man. And the Pharisees knew it – and they knew that they were behaving horribly towards Jesus – they weren't loving their neighbor – and more than that – if this Jesus were truly the Messiah – then they were directly treating God Himself horribly! And they are shocked into silence. Some repent – Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimethea. Some conspire to put Him to death before He might do them any more embarrassment. In fact, they even charge Jesus with blasphemy.
So what do we learn from this all? What is the difference between the Pharisees and Jesus? Well, let's see. Where is the Pharisees' focus? The Law. What I do. What do I have to do, what about me, me, me? Now, what is Christ's focus? Let's look at the promises of God about the Messiah – let's focus on what God is going to do for you and how God is going to bless you. That's the difference, that's what makes all the difference in the world. You see, the Pharisees had a backwards approach. Their focus was upon who they were, what they did, how they could impress God with all that they do. You know, God is awfully hard to impress. If I walk outside and throw a 70 mile an hour fastball I'm not going to impress a major league baseball player. If I shoot 90 on a round of golf, that's not going to impress any professional golfer. If I can't impress other people - how in the world is anything that I do going to impress God? God says, “Let there be light” and there is! Well, just You wait God until You see what I can do! Yet that was the Pharisees' approach – they sought to impress God with their holiness.
That's not the way that it works, dear friends. Rather this – God comes to you, out of His great love and mercy He comes to you and gives you every blessing of both body and soul – indeed He gives you the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus upon the Cross in order to cover every lack that you have. And then, in response – we show forth love. Oh, we don't do so perfectly, we don't do so completely – we still sin – But God comes to us in love and fills us with His love, and that can't but help to spill out. He is the vine and we are the branches – when He has drawn us to Himself we cannot help but bear good fruit. Which is why Christ always seeks to draw your eyes to Him – why Jesus wants our focus to be upon His love for us and what He does for us. When Peter sees Jesus – he walks on water. When Peter looks elsewhere, he starts to sink. Seeing Christ, seeing what He has done for us and freely given to us is to shape every aspect of our lives – from our earliest moments where we are but little children who have been brought to His house to the very moment of our death – where like St. Stephen we look up to heaven and behold the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God. God's love predominates everything in our lives and shapes and molds our lives to where we are His instruments of love and service. And when we err – when we become arrogant and proud in our sinful actions, when we become stubborn or cruel or lazy – what does God do? He calls us to repentance and gives us forgiveness again and again – reshaping us – just like a chef sharpening a dull knife or the farmer fixing a busted piece of equipment – God makes us to be new people through His forgiveness.
This is what Paul says to the Corinthians – I give thanks to my God always for you because of the Grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus. . . as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same I say to you – for God has given you Grace and Mercy through Christ Jesus, and by the power of His Word and His Sacraments He sustains you – and so you wait, you wait for Christ to return, and in the mean time you be whom He has made you to be – His servants who live not to impress God, but simply to reflect His love to any and all who need it, as best you can, and who receive and rejoice in God's forgiveness for those moments where you fail. God preserve and keep us in the One True Faith all of our days. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.