SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D SAMUEL LEE WOOD AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2014, THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Remember from now until the end of the church year, we’re studying the last chapters of Matthew’s gospel, looking at the parables, but last week and this one we are looking rather at “pericopes,” little snippets of text where Jesus gives a kind of commentary on his parables. For three weeks now we’ve watched Jesus and the religious authorities circle each other, feeling each other out, volleying questions and accusations back and forth. The Pharisees question Jesus’ authority, and Jesus flouts theirs. And today, on this Stewardship Sunday, we have before us one last interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees - looking at it, let’s focus on:
(1) The answer the Pharisees couldn’t question;
(2) The question they couldn’t answer; and
(3) The name they couldn’t say.
First: The Answer They Couldn’t Question
A lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the law?” And Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend (or “hang”) all the Law and the Prophets.” (22.35-40)
Before we look at Jesus’ answer to the lawyer’s question, let me, if I may, take a quick detour to touch on an argument I hear all the time and that Jesus implicitly dismisses here. The argument comes from people who dismiss the Bible, and it goes something like this: “I like Jesus. I can get behind his agenda. But the Old Testament’s angry God? That something else altogether.” The argument is essentially that there must be different Gods in the Old and New Testaments because you can’t have an angry God who is also a God of love, so the Bible is inconsistent in how it reveals God to us. And my first thought is always - “Yep, everything old is new again; you’re a Marcionite heretic,” and then I thump them in the nose. But that would be wrong. A better reply, a more nuanced one, is to ask “Is it inconsistent? Really?” It’s been my experience that every loving parent I’ve ever known gets angry toward the kids at some point. If a mother sees her child hurt or in danger - even when it’s the child’s own fault - how can she not become angry?
Rebecca Pippert makes the point in her book Hope Has Its Reasons:
Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise action or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it. We are dead against whatever is destroying the one we love [She is using, as an example, loving someone w/ a cocaine addiction]. The fact is that anger and love are inseparably bound in human experience. And if I, a flawed and sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? If God were not angry over how we are destroying ourselves, then he wouldn’t be good and he certainly wouldn’t be loving. Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference . . . . God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer . . . which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.
Jesus implicitly overrules the objection that the OT gives us a different God when he tells them what the greatest commandment is - He doesn’t craft a new law, he doesn’t pivot to a new plan for a new administration, he reaches back to the book of Deuteronomy, to the first thing a Jewish parent would’ve taught their children to say when they learned to talk, the Shema - means “hear” - “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one God; love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” (Deut. 6) That’s what Deuteronomy says. And while you’re at it, throw in some of the book of Leviticus, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Lev. 19.18) All the law God ever gave you; all the prophets ever said; every word in Holy Scripture “hangs” on those two things - κρεμαται, krematai - “As a door hangs on its hinges, so the whole OT hangs on these two commandments.” This, Jesus says, is what’s at the heart of things; it is the summum bonum, the greatest good. This is what life is about, and it’s what the Bible - all the Bible - is about: Love God, and love people.
And the Pharisees were silent. They couldn’t question that answer.
Second: The Question They Couldn’t Answer
This will be brief, but the second part of today’s reading is Jesus’ question to the Pharisees: What do you think about the Christ/messiah - Whose son is he? And they said “David’s.” So Jesus asks, If David, the king, calls the messiah “Lord,” how can the messiah be David’s son? Put it another way: “Is the messiah David’s son or David’s Lord?” Jesus is quoting Ps. 110 where the Lord (how we translate the divine name Yahweh in our English bibles) says to “my lord” (the messiah), “Sit at my right hand.” What Jesus is trying to do is show them that their expectation of the messiah was all wrong. They expected a king like David to ride in and make war. N. T. Wright says:
By itself, ‘son of David’ could mean, and for many Jews of the time did mean, the coming king who would win military victories over Israel’s enemies. [But] such a figure would hardly encourage people to love God with all their hearts and their neighbours as themselves . . . ."
The point is the Pharisees had no idea. Jesus asked them who the messiah would be, and they couldn’t answer the question because they didn’t know who he was. Wright says, “They’d never been asked that question before, and they certainly didn’t know the answer, even though it was standing in front of them in flesh and blood.” And that brings us to the last point:
Third: The Name They Couldn’t Say
Remember the question the lawyer asked: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? (22.35) I stared at this all week trying to figure out how to preach it, until something dawned on me: Look what they call Jesus - Διδασκαλε, "teacher." Jesus is called Διδασκαλε 31 times in the gospels. Sometimes it’s by people who are trying to trap him, like the Pharisees, and sometimes it’s by people who are really trying to understand and follow him, like his disciples. The word means something like a rabbi who teaches his followers, his disciples. Jesus certainly is that - he was and is a teacher.
By and large, people in Boston are OK with Jesus being a good moral teacher. But it’s much more difficult to call Jesus by the name the Pharisees couldn't say: kurios, “lord.” If Jesus is only a teacher, then we can take or leave whatever lesson he teaches. But if he is who he says he is, if he is the messiah, if he is David’s Lord and not just David’s son, then we can’t just take him or leave him; the only rational response to Jesus is to drop to our knees in devotion and humility and say “Command me.”
And when we do that, here’s what Jesus’ command to us turns out to be: Love God, and love people. First, love God - with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. That means love him with your whole self. Barclay (William, not Charles) says this kind of whole-person love “must be a love that dominates our emotions, directs our thoughts, and is the dynamic of all our actions.” That’s our primary end, to love God above all things, and it always, always, always leads to loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
That last phrase - love your neighbor as yourself - is what we’ll end on today because, after all, it is Stewardship Sunday. Let me submit to you that your checkbook is a moral document. If you want to know what you love, follow the money. And do you see how radical Jesus is being here? He’s saying the way to love your neighbor is to make the same provision for his/her well-being as you make for yourself. All of us take whatever income we have and provide for ourselves - clothes, food, mortgage, entertainment. The question for us is whether we are making the same provision for those around us. We need clothes, so do they; we have to eat, so do they; we need a house, so do they. My neighbor’s need should exert the same pull on my finances as my own.
That’s what stewardship is about. Four Sundays from now we will all make our financial pledges to support the ministries of this church. And between now and then, please make it part of your daily spiritual practice to pray a Collect for Stewardship. It’s printed on page 6 of the bulletin today, and we’ll close by praying it together. Jesus the Lord has told us what real life looks like, that to really live and flourish we have to love God with everything we have and then take the same care of our neighbors as we do ourselves. May God give us the grace to love him with our minds and our money, our wallets and our wills, to make him not just our teacher, but the Lord of our lives.
Gracious God, giver of all we have and hold as stewards; Grant the people of the Church of the Advent a deep and abiding awareness that all things come from you - our health, our incomes, our jobs, our talents, and our generous impulse. Send your Holy Spirit to help us as we swim against the rising tides of materialism, envy, individualism, and greed in our culture. When we are tempted to think of money as a private matter, remind us that you have asked for part of what we are given to be returned to you as a symbol of our awareness that you give all we have. And, further, help us to help each other in this grace of giving, for you are the lover of our souls and call us to nothing less than transformation in Jesus Christ our Lord.
1) Rebecca Manley Pippert, Hope Has Its Reasons: The Search to Satisfy Our Deepest Longings, rev’d ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001): 100ff.
2) Robert H. Mounce, Matthew, NIBC (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991): 210 (quoting BDAG).
3) Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2, Chapters 16-28 (Westminster John Knox, 2004): 95.
4) Ibid., 93.
5) Διδασκαλε, TDNT vol. II (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1964): 148ff.
6) Mounce, 211 (quoting William Barclay, The Gospel According to Matthew, rev'd ed., vol. 2 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981): 278).