Sermon Commentary for Sunday, October 29, 2023
Matthew 22:34-46 Commentary
Comments, Questions, and Observations
We are still in the temple, still dealing with the temple leaders engaging Jesus in the hopes of trapping or discrediting him. Last week we read about the Pharisees sending their disciples to question Jesus, and in-between those verses and this week’s text, the Sadducees took a round in the inquisition. But the Pharisees themselves are back now, seemingly motivated by their counterparts’ lack of success.
Their motive is the same as before. Just like we’re told in verse 15, they are asking Jesus a question they hope he will trip over and answer inappropriately. Last time, they asked him a question with political consequences, this time they ask him the big religious question.
And Jesus answers it correctly. No one who was listening in would have argued with the fact that the Shema, loving the Lord our God with every fiber and aspect of our existence, is the commandment. Practicing people of the Jewish faith recited it twice daily.
They asked Jesus for one commandment and they got the answer they were expecting. Plan foiled! But then, unprompted, Jesus keeps talking. He adds a second command that is like the first one, rooted in love. But this time, love is commanded for those around them along with God above.
In itself, it is not a new commandment but part of the Mosaic law. And what Jesus says about the import of these two commands makes sense: God’s laws for how we best exist and function in the world God has made truly do seem to fall along these two directional axes of love of God and love of neighbour.
These love commands anchor our existence as God’s people. Piety is not unidirectional; it flows in all directions. And doesn’t this make sense, given what we know about God? If God is love, and in God we live and move and have our being, then we are anchored in the overflowing streams of love. All of creation exists because our loving God willed it into being. After all, “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”
Love is our base function, what it means to be image bearers of God. If we were only given one-word to describe the message of the prophets and all of the laws given to God’s people, then, according to Jesus, that word is love. Paul prays it for us in Ephesians 3: I pray that… Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
All of these passages use the same Greek verb for love from the noun agape. Much has been written about the differences in the various Greek words for love (philos, agape, eros), but in the simplest distillation, agape love is the one rooted in flourishing for all. It is community-building at the largest level (though all forms of love have relational qualities, their scopes differ). Love towards God, love towards others, is world-building—just as God designed. Because we fail through sin, God gave us the law and the prophets to invite us back. All of the law and message of the prophets were for this same end: building and keeping the world the way God wills it to be.
We don’t know how the Pharisees responded to this addition, nor if Jesus gave them a chance to respond before jumping to a question of his own. On the surface, it seems like an odd segue. Besides the fact that Jesus has started to ask this question about the Messiah/Christ more regularly, what does it have to do with the Great Commandment(s)?
It is another call back to basic Jewish doctrine. Jesus highlights how the pieces that were already there fit together and reveal a grander foundation in the Messiah of love. Adding the second great command to the first revealed that the trajectory of the believer’s life is not just measured upwards but sideways. And now, by showing the Pharisees that a theologically significant detail has been under their very noses this whole time, he is showing all of us that there is always more to learn and have revealed with God. Love expands existence and knowledge. In a way, it’s a warning to us to not become too complacent with the points of belief and doctrine that we cling to—we may be ignoring an equally important lens or tenet. Like the Pharisees, we might be looking for one answer, but that answer could actually be incomplete.
Jesus points out that David talks about his son also being his Lord; how can that be? The one answer the Pharisees knew was that the Messiah would be David’s son, Jesus agreed. But it’s an incomplete picture of the Messiah, made plain as day in the cryptic language of the passage: “The Lord (Yhwh) said to my Lord (Adonai)…”
Like the two love commandments, the information was there, just disconnected from one another. The Pharisees didn’t know what to say or how to puzzle it out in their brains. The text says it was this question that brought an end to the Pharisees questioning Jesus. Stumped into silence—and not in the good way!
Being schooled in the way God’s law is held together by the axes of love and being shown how incomplete their own mastery of God’s ways and plans are (i.e., not having the complete sense of who the Messiah is), has led the Pharisees to some humility. God has used their focus on particularity against them, revealing how the specificity of the Scriptures points to a grand reality rooted in love and how the world is ruled by a Messiah who we cannot quite wrap our heads around.
May Christ’s revealing work through the Holy Spirit continue to upset our foundations so that our lives may be as grand and loving as God intends.
There are three Old Testament references in this section. Jesus summarizes all of the law and prophets on commands found in Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18. Then, Jesus uses Psalm 110.1 to open the Pharisees’ eyes to the fact that the awaited for Messiah is not just David’s son, but also David’s Lord. The way that Jesus uses all three of these passages points to a grander import for them: Jesus upsets the foundation but uses the same pieces to re-establish them.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is 450 feet long and hangs 230 feet above the riverbed canyon. It is a simple suspension bridge, meaning it does not have any support beams along the bridge—its steel cables only hang from two anchors on each end. These anchors are substantial: 13 tons of concrete each. That’s about 13 cubic yards, or 13 3 ft x 3 ft x 3ft cubes of concrete (think about those yardwaste bags from the hardware store that stand at least half as tall as most of us). Simple suspension bridges feel wobbly while you walk in them—a little like how it feels to keep in balance loving God and neighbour—and you have to trust the anchors, God’s greatest commandments and the Messiah, as you go across.
Dale Bruner gives us another visual image in his commentary on chapters 12-28, The Churchbook: with these love commands, Jesus “opens the heart of believers, like flowers to the sun, into an affectional life. We were made to love.”
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