Matthew 22.34-end (NRSV)
The Greatest Commandment
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
The Question about David’s Son
The following are some thoughts on the Gospel for next week with the aid of Barclay, focusing on verses 34-40 to begin with.
Barclay suggests that in this passage, Jesus lays down the complete definition of religion:
Firstly, religion consists in loving God. Here Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6.5: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’. This is part of the Jewish Shema, the basic and essential creed of Judaism. It is with this sentence that each Jewish act of worship begins with, and it is the first text that every Jewish child commits to memory. It means that we are to give God our total commitment to love, a love that dominates our emotions, directs our thoughts and is the dynamic of our actions. As Barclay explains: ‘All religion starts with the love which is total commitment of life to God.’
Secondly, Jesus refers to Leviticus 19.18 which reads: ‘you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.’ The only way a person can prove that they love God is by loving other people. The order is important: love God first and love others next. The reason for this is that other people only become loveable, when we love God. All people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1.26-27) and it because of this that they are loveable.
To be truly religious is to love God and to love people who are created in God’s image, not with a sentimental caricature of love; but with total commitment which ‘... issues forth in devotion to God and practical service of men.’
I now focus on the second part – verses 41-46:
Jesus asks the Pharisees a question about whose ‘son’ the Messiah is? Their reply is ‘The son of David.’ He challenges them because how can this be is David, in the Psalms, calls the Messiah ‘Lord’? No one could give Jesus a satisfactory answer.
Barclay suggests that this is both one of the most obscure yet also one of the most important of the utterances of Jesus and at first sight, one cannot fully grasp the meaning but, Barclay adds, ‘ ... we see the air of awe and astonishment and mystery which it has about it ...’
Jesus frequently refused to allow his disciples to proclaim him as the Messiah until they understood fully what this meant. Referring to the Messiah as the ‘Son of David’ meant that people saw the Messiah as a great earthly prince, one who would shatter Israel’s enemies and lead the people to conquest of all nations. He was to be a nationalistic, political and military ruler in terms of power and glory. Jesus responds by quoting from Psalm 110.1 which all, at the time, would have seen as being Messianic.
Jesus is here pointing out that it is not enough to think of the Messiah as David’s son because he is David’s Lord. The only true description is that he is the ‘Son of God’. This means that the Messiah is not to be thought of in terms of Davidic conquest; but rather in terms of ‘... divine sacrificial love ...’
It is here that Jesus makes his greatest claim: he had come to demonstrate the love of God, most supremely in the Cross. Barclay suggests that, at the time, few would have understood what Jesus meant but they would have ‘... felt the shiver in the presence of the eternal mystery ...’ and that they might have sensed that they had witnessed the ‘voice of God’ speaking, ‘... and for that moment, in this man Jesus, they glimpsed the very face of God ...’
John P Meier offers the following thoughts on the meaning of Jesus’ question:
Firstly, here Jesus shows the superiority of his teaching and his authority over the Jewish magisterium. They had posed him a number of questions and Jesus was able to provide excellent answers to all of them. Now he asks a question of them, and they are reduced to silence. They claim to be the only authentic interpreters of the Scriptures, especially the Messianic texts, but this is the key Messianic text and they cannot explain it. So, they cannot risk further verbal confrontation in public.
Secondly, throughout Matthew’s Gospel, his Christology has been that Jesus is the Son of David, but he is also more he is the Son of God (2.15) and even God is with us (1.23). This means that Jesus deserves to be called Lord, and this is what his disciples began to do. So Jesus is seen as the Son of God right from the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. Here Matthew is not suggesting that to call Jesus the ‘Son of David’ is wrong; Jesus fulfils this requirement while transcending it.
The problem the Pharisees have is that they are not open top re-thinking their ideas ‘... in the light of the messianic reality standing before them.
I am firmly convinced that the more we get to know, the more we need to be open to more. Our faith is a progressive e faith, the aniconic nature of God continues as the Spirit applies the truth into new generations and contexts. So what if something has never been done before; so what if there have never been women bishops before as an example? We always need to ask the question: ‘What is God saying to the Church now?’ If this were not true, we would still have slavery!
It is all too easy to think that what we read applies to someone else. The more I spend time with the Gospels; the more I realise that the message is for me!
This passage issues a warning to every generation: “Do not be so sure of yourself about the things of God!” You might, you probably will be surprised.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were very sure of themselves; they had studied the Law and they were convinced that they knew what was right; and that was strict observance of the Law. Jesus makes the vital point that all this is meaningless unless you treat other people with dignity and respect – you love your neighbour as you love yourself.
The Church in their certainty has often got things wrong: slavery, the Crusades, ordination of women, human sexuality ... but I would ask us to think of this guideline: “Are we loving our neighbour as we love ourselves?” If I was a woman, how would I like to be treated? If I was a slave, how would I want to be treated? etc. etc.
We are also reminded that we are to love with all our hearts: do we? Or are we so reserved and rational that we no longer have deep, moving emotional experiences? We need to rediscover the joy of the Charismatic renewal of the 1970s. But this needs to be tempered with our minds, that rational part of our makeup that keeps things balanced and in check. And of course with our soul – that which is at the core of our being. In the quiet of beauty and joy the Ground of all Being meets us at the core of what we are.
And in this way we ought to love our neighbours – costly, intimately and with depth.