October 25, 2020
Sunday Between October 23 and October 29 Inclusive
Proper 25, Ordinary Time 30
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Matthew 22:34-46, The Message or Matthew 22:34-46, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Once again we have another story of a challenge and confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders and elites. In this case, the Pharisees.
We have skipped over the mocking, sarcastic question of the Sadducees concerning resurrection, Matthew 22:23-33.
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh suggest that the two questions in this text parallel the last two of the four questions that are asked at the Passover meal:
- The first son, the "wise son," asks the "Is it lawful" question. (Matthew 22:17 - Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, or not?)
- The second son, the "wicked son," asks the mocking question. (Matthew 22:24-28 - In the resurrection whose wife of the seven [brothers] will she be?)
- The third son, the "perfect or well-rounded son," asks the question concerning general moral principles. (Matthew 22:36 - What is the greatest commandment?)
- The fourth son, is a child too young to ask a question, and so the question concerning Israelite history is asked by the presiding father (in this case, Jesus). (Matthew 22:45 - If David thus calls him Lord, how can he [the Messiah] be his son?)
Malina, pages 112-114.
Jesus gives a short and direct response to the question of "What is the greatest commandment?" by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
The fact that Jesus attaches "Love your neighbour as you love yourself" to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" is a bit sneaky. He actually gives two "greatest" commandments.
But Jesus goes further. He also says:
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
In this radical linking of love of God with love of neighbour and self as the "Greatest," Jesus makes all other laws about purity, cleanliness, rituals, sacrifices, etc. secondary. In other words, he has just cut the privileged status out from under the feet of the religious leaders whose position depends on these secondary laws. Yikes. No wonder they saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo.
The "love" that is being called for is not emotion; it is not "liking," "getting along with," "desiring," or "feeling warm about." The "love" Jesus is talking about here is trust, loyalty, enduring devotion, being attached to. You may actually hate your neighbour, but you will still love them in the Biblical sense if you continue to act for their well-being, don't tell lies about them, and refuse to cut off your relationship with them.
Frankly, I'm not sure what is the Good News in Matthew 22:41-46. Jesus scores the final debating point that silences his critics. Is that Good News? I guess we can take some comfort that our leader is smart, knows his Bible, can think on his feet, and puts love ahead of all other duties.
Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, see below, pages 113-114.
Matthew 22:34-46 (NRSV)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 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.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." 43 He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44 'The Lord said to my Lord,
"Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet" '?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?" 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Matthew 22:34-46 (The Message)
34 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35 One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36 "Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?"
37 Jesus said, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' 38 This is the most important, the first on any list. 39 But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' 40 These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them."
41 As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: 42 "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They said, "David's son."
43 Jesus replied, "Well, if the Christ is David's son, how do you explain that David, under inspiration, named Christ his 'Master'?
44 God said to my Master,
"Sit here at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool."
45 "Now if David calls him 'Master,' how can he at the same time be his son?"
46 That stumped them, literalists that they were. Unwilling to risk losing face again in one of these public verbal exchanges, they quit asking questions for good.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.