Sunday 26th October 2014 at Aston Abbotts and Cublington
Gospel Matthew 22.34-46
When the Gospel is announced the reader says
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’
If then David calls him ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?” No-one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no-one dared to ask him any more questions.
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
This confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees is one of a series of arguments between our Lord and the lawyers, chief priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees and their disciples.
Today’s gospel reading seems to focus on a riddle, which Jesus poses to the Pharisees, which he knows they cannot answer. Jesus asks about “the Christ” which means “the Anointed One” The word “Christ” in the Pharisees’ minds does not refer to Jesus himself. He is asking them about the promised Messiah — whom they have been expecting for many generations.
The riddle concerns the relationship of the Messiah with King David. The Christ is “Son of David” they reply. “How then can David call him Lord?” Jesus asks.
Reading this riddle in the gospels, now, today, two millennia after the words were spoken, we don’t really get the significance and why it is reported so prominently. But it doesn’t really matter that we don’t fully understand it, because the first part of the exchange is, for us, much more important. It’s about love.
The Sadducees had their own tricky question about the Law. “Which is the greatest commandment?” they ask. Jesus has no difficulty fielding this question. His reply seems deceptively simple. He gives what has become known as the Golden Rule: Love God — Love your Neighbour.
The Golden Rule is not unique. You find it in other faiths too. But here it is invested with all the authority of Jesus himself, and is at the heart of our faith.
The Sadducees are silenced. But we cannot pass on to the exchange with the Pharisees quite so readily. What has been spoken by Jesus we must ponder again and again, throughout our whole lives. Love God. Love our Neighbours.
You probably know that the Greeks had several words for different kinds of love. Not quite so many as the Eskimos have for snow and ice, but more than the one of two words we have in English. Two or three of them are clearly illustrated in the Golden Rule.
Love is a strong emotion in our modern society. It’s a force for good, and the glue that holds family life together. However perversions of love, like perversions of faith, can lead to the most appalling crimes. Love can be dangerous, as well as wonderful.
Jesus does not always behave in the cosy fashion we expect. He provokes; argues; disputes goads; is sometimes violent. If love is a strong emotion in our society, why should it not be so in the Bible? The thing is, Jesus has no difficulty reconciling all his actions with the law of love. And nor should we. We should examine all our actions in the light of the law of God’s love for us, and ours for our neighbours.
Take the church, for example. How often does ‘love’ mean taking the path of least resistance? A few volunteers doing everything, and feeling taken for granted?
When truth telling is uncomfortable, do we practice equivocations in the name of ‘love?’ Do we actively try and avoid argument, theological disagreement, feeling that love equals harmony?
It didn’t work that way for Jesus. He entered disputes, provoked debate, and did not avoid uncomfortable situations. He touched untouchables, engaged fully with the outcast, included women in his ministry and group of followers, touched the dead, and confronted trouble head on.
Eventually love of this kind got him killed. Had he stayed out of trouble, things might have ended very differently. What might then have been the story of our redemption?
The message is surely that, seeing the love of Jesus in action, our love does not imply some sort of doormat humility. We can still love God and our neighbours if feathers get ruffled and some people get upset. Does that change in any sense the way things are done in this church? Does that affect who holds the power, and the way they exercise it?
Here we can learn from the love of Jesus in action, and review our lives in the light of the Golden Rule.
You might have thought I ducked the riddle. Well, no I won’t. We know the key, which was hidden from the Sadducees. The Christ, the anointed One, is the Messiah, yet is also born in the line of David the king. The time had not come to make that clear, but it does remind us that we should not just read the gospels to find out more about Jesus himself. We should look at the messianic background in the Old Testament too, if we are to see this rounded picture of our Saviour. That’s the other important message from this passage. Amen