Download or listen to the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: “Son and Lord” (Matthew 22:34-46)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Teacher, what is the great command in the Law?” This is the third and final question asked by the leaders of Israel in this chapter. The Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees, and this expert of the Law, this religious lawyer, all ask Jesus a question to try and tempt or trap Him. We do not need to worry too much about the questions, because they are not sincere or serious questions. But we should pay close attention to the answers Jesus gives. Here, He answers the question, but His answer completely redefines the Law according to love. He says it is not a matter of asking about this or that commandment; instead, real love—of God and neighbor—is a complete thing. It is the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole mind that matters. Love does not work by degrees, it is whole and complete, or it is not really love. Love involves everything you are and everything you have and everything you think, say, and do. Anything less is, at best, a pale imitation of the true thing. But once again, the questioner has missed the point of God, love, the Law, and Jesus. So Jesus asks a question, as He did at the beginning of this section, trying to bring these blind leaders of Israel to repentance. To see truly what the Law is and who Jesus is.
Prior to these three questions, Jesus told three parables against the leaders of Israel, accusing them of refusing to render to God what was His. On either side of these three parables and these three questions are two questions that frame the whole thing. The first question Jesus asks is in response to the Pharisees wanting to know where He gets His authority to overturn tables in the courts of the Temple, His authority to teach and heal. He says, I will ask you a question and if you answer, I will tell you where I get My authority—because the answer is the same! The question is, from where did John’s baptism come? From God or from people? John’s baptism came from God, as he prepared the way of the Lord. So Jesus’ authority comes from God, and not from men. Here, in our Gospel reading, Jesus asks a question also. It is meant to focus the scribe and the Pharisees on Jesus. What do you think, concerning the Christ? Whose son is He? From whose line will He come? David’s, of course. Especially the mighty, military David. And they are waiting for one like David to come and force Rome out of Israel. But if the Christ is David’s son, why does David, in the Spirit of God, call Him Lord? Psalm 110: Yahweh said to Adonai—the Lord said to my Lord—sit at My right in all My authority, power, majesty, until I put Your enemies under Your feet. If David calls Him Lord, how is He His Son? There is only one solution to that problem, only one answer to that question, and they do not have it. They do not speak a word—or, rather, the Word—and no one dared to ask Him any more questions.
Now, this has always seemed a little curious to me. Why is this the question that finally silences the questions? What is it about David and His Son that stops the mouths of the Pharisees and the scribes? What is it about this question that makes them stop their tempting and trapping, and simply go and plot Jesus’ death? Why this question? Well, it’s sort of hard to understand, until we hear the Gospel according to Matthew from the beginning. From verse 1, Matthew is clear about who Jesus is. “This is the book of the generations of Jesus, the Son of David.” And we follow this through, and the promise to Mary and Joseph, daughter and son of David, is that Jesus will be Immanuel, “God with us.” At Jesus’ baptism, God says, “This is My Son.” When the devil tempts Jesus, he says, “If You are the Son of God….” The crowds say, “This cannot be the Son of David, can He?” And then we have the blind men who cry out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” and when Jesus asks whether they believe that He can heal them, they say, “Yes, Lord.” And the Canaanite woman, who says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” And the Centurion who calls Him “Lord.” And the disciples always call Him Lord. The question is, as always, who is Jesus? The question Jesus asks about the Christ is exactly the same as the question He had asked the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered for the Apostles, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
That’s why this question is the final question. Because it is the summary of who Jesus is. And the leaders of Israel refuse to believe that Jesus is both the Son of David and the Son of God. It is still the question today. What do you think about the Christ? Who do you say I am? And He is either a “teacher,” which is how each of the three questioners address Jesus, or He is Lord. If He is simply a teacher, who instructs you about the finer points of the Law, and gives His opinion (one among many, of course), then you will either, like the rich young man, go away sad; or, like these leaders, try to kill Jesus and His unending claim on your life. If He is simply a teacher, then you will approach Him with questions designed to get an opinion, which you may take or leave depending on how it fits your own ideas or opinions, or you will ask Him to instruct you in life decisions, how to have a better life, a happier marriage, advice that you find applicable to your circumstances. But if He is your Lord, then it is not He who must make Himself applicable to your life and your circumstances, but you who must be made applicable to Him and His Word. If He is truly Lord, then He does not want you to have a better and more self-fulfilled life; He wants to kill your old self with its desires and preferences. He wants to give you, not a better life, but a new life. Unless you can love God with everything you are and everything you have, body and soul, everything you think, say, and do, maybe with a little help from the good teacher, then you must die. It is all about Jesus: the Love of God, the love of neighbor, the Law and the Prophets: they all find their focus and their fulfillment in Him. He comes, the One promised by Law and Prophets, and He loves God with His whole heart, His whole soul, His whole mind, everything He is and everything He does, and this means the cross. The next time the Pharisees and the scribes and the chief priests gather, they gather in the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas to plot Jesus’ arrest and death. He loves God all the way to the cross, and He loves His enemies all the way to the cross. The Lord will put the Lord’s enemies beneath His feet, and they will either be crushed and destroyed; or they will be raised up as His friends and neighbors.
The only thing to do is to fall down with the blind men, and the Canaanite woman, and the Roman Centurion: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!” And because He is your Lord, He says, Yes to your plea. He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won you from your enemies: sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with silver and gold, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. And all of this He did to take you out from under the tyranny of your self, your attempts to get Jesus to give you a little advice and leave you alone, and make you His own, fully, in heart, body, soul, mind; thought, word, and deed. So you will live under Him and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity; so He gives you eternal life. This is what it means to have Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, as your Lord. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. And He does, forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/22/11