The Greatest Law
Specifically, I would like to go back to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. That long list of names that composes chapter one of this gospel.
It is a long list of names, most of them difficult to pronounce. Some of the names are obscure. However, many of them have their own stories in scripture. The list starts with Abraham and it ends with Joseph and Mary. Embedded in the list is the name of King David.
King David from whose lineage the Messiah would come. In that first passage Matthew sets his gospel up and lets us know who Jesus is and where he came from.
The Greatest Law – Audio Sermon
We might wonder why that is important. So let me put it to you like this.
If you are from the East Coast of Canada a common question to ask people to this day is, “Whose your father?”
The family name matters, it means something. It tells the individual asking the question something about you and your history. Whether we like it or not it causes them to form certain opinions about you, your character and your work ethic.
In the beginning of Matthew’s gospel this is what we are being setup for.
Which brings us back to today. Today’s passage looks to the beginning, considers itself in the present and then looks to the future. Within the narrative of Matthew’s gospel Jesus will be dead within a week. For ourselves we are looking forward to Christmas not Easter. This passage seems out of place given the present time of year that we find ourselves in. However, within the Christian year we are moving towards the end. The Christian year starts at Advent and so we are moving towards an ending and a new beginning of sorts. The Christian year ends with Christ the King Sunday and that is partially what this passage prepares us for.
This is one of the final verbal sparring matches that Jesus has with the temple authorities. The next time Jesus encounters them he will be arrested. It is also Jesus at his best .
Have you ever watched TV or a movie and the main character is just so witty, knows exactly what to say, puts everyone in their place and handles the situation so calmly? That is Jesus here.
Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment under the law. Which of 613 laws is the greatest. They sought to trick him, to see if he would give one law preference over another. In response Jesus literally shames those who are present.
Jesus responds by quoting the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6. Shema, the Hebrew word for hear or listen. “Hear, O Israel, The Lord your God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Why does quoting this verse bring shame to those who asked? Because this is the most basic and fundamental confession of Judaism. Those of the Jewish faith learn this passage first and foremost right to this very day. Six year old children would have been able to answer the question that the authorities asked Jesus that day.
Then Jesus adds and love your neighbour as yourself. We might wonder why Jesus adds this, why Jesus decides to follow up his answer. It is simple, you can’t love God without loving what God loves.
Friends this sets up everything. It is the core of Jesus’ teaching, it summarizes everything in two neat little sentences. Jesus does everything but wrap it up with a bow for us.
Let me put it to you like this. If ask you what is the most important thing we can learn about God through Jesus Christ in scripture. You might respond “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It is a simple and yet sublime truth that transcends all other answers. In recognizing the truth of that statement, a truth that we find in a children’s hymn, all other things are made clear for us.
Then Jesus switches gears and asks his own question.
It is interesting to note the difference in the two questions. The first is one that was asked of Jesus and any faithful person at that time should have been able to give the correct response. However, Jesus’ question to them leaves them puzzled and unable or perhaps unwilling to answer.
“About the Messiah” Jesus asks, “Whose son is he?”
David’s son comes the reply.
“How then” Jesus asks, “does David call the Messiah Lord? If David calls him Lord how can he call him his son?” From that time forward they asked Jesus no more questions.
Without saying it to them Jesus had told them who he was and they were having none of it.
Jesus reminds them that the Messiah is indeed David’s son, but he is also much more than David. He is the Son of God. The Messiah is much more than an Earthly king who would lead Israel to overthrow the foreign occupying army of the Romans. No, the Messiah is the Son of God who comes not to overthrow a ruling army, put to overthrow the power of sin and evil in our lives: To show us a better way to live with one another.
This is how Jesus, the Son of God, David’s Lord, the Messiah has come to rescue us, by living out the Shema. By living out the command to love God with all his heart, mind and strength and to love his neighbour as himself. The love and compassion of Jesus is so great that Jesus will take that command and fulfill it in a way that altered the course of history. Jesus fulfills this command in a way that changes our very lives.
How does Jesus do this?
By rooting out sin and death. Sin and death are the enemies that Jesus will put under our feet. Not nations, not ethnic groups, but the enemies of all humanity. Sin itself and death which sin ultimately brings.
Jesus sees and knows that sin and death are at work in our world. He sees this in Israel as he teaches in the temple. He sees it in high priests who think they hold special status and Jesus opposes the propping up of the status quo so much that he will launch into a full-blown attack on any attempt to prompt up such an institution.
Jesus confronts sin all the way to the cross.
This is the ending that Matthew sets up for his in his gospel. A beginning founded on the understanding of Jesus Christ as our Messiah. Here at the middle we see the convergence of that beginning as we move towards the climax that will see Jesus confront sin for our sake.
Our gospel lesson today places us at the point where the message of Jesus, his purpose is made clear for us. His critics are silenced.
Jesus is revealed to us as Messiah, the Son of God and we are asked to love him with all our hearts, all of our soul and all of our minds. And we are also to love others just as Jesus has loved us. Amen.
Text: Matthew 22: 34-46