If the picture of God we’re projecting to the world isn’t first of all love,
then our theology is likely wrong.
Thesis: All of us build theological and cultural “boxes” which help explain God, the world, and our place in it. But we must never allow these to turn into gods – idols – that prevents us from hearing and seeing God more perfectly.
This sermon was given at the Presbyterian Church on October 26, 2014.
This passage consists of two conflict stories, which upon first glance seem somewhat disjointed and unrelated. Upon closer examination, however, it can be seen that the first is the explanation for the second.
The Greatest Commandment
The first part of the passage is the “test” presented to Jesus by a lawyer from the Pharisees in which he asks which is the greatest commandment. This is a story that is familiar to nearly all Christians, young and old, in which Jesus responds with “love God” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Where we 21st century Westerners get hung-up is with the ordinals, “first” and “second”. First and second usually mean “first” has priority over “second” so when Jesus says the “second is like unto the first” we subconsciously think that “love God” is slightly more important than “love your neighbor” even when we intellectually know that both are supposed to be equal.
When “love God” is taken by itself as the most important commandment, Christians often end up with some kind of performance-based, individualistic set of codes that are meant to improve devotion to God.
The proper way of understanding and applying Jesus’ statement is to take to heart what he said: that both are truly equal, that there is no “first” or “second.” In fact I believe it is quite proper to see “love your neighbor as yourself” as the application of “love God.” The “love your neighbor” comes from Leviticus 19:9-18, in which the text quite clearly provides concrete examples of what that looks like. Jesus tells his audience that loving God cannot happen apart from community.
So, after all his preaching and teaching, after all his travels and miracles, here, just days before his crucifixion, our Lord names his center—the center of his ministry, the center of his mission, the center of the kingdom he has been sent to proclaim and build—and it is love. Love of neighbor, care and concern for each other.
What Is the Messiah?
The second conflict is one which Jesus initiates against the group of Pharisees still in the vicinity. He asks them what they think about the Messiah and whose son they think he is.
The Pharisees respond by saying that the Messiah is David’s son.
Jesus uses a quote from Psalm 110:1 and asks, then how could David call the Messiah “my Lord” if the Messiah is David’s son as they just claimed?
Separated by time and culture, this is a particularly puzzling and enigmatic question for us. It doesn’t make much sense and we have difficulty comprehending how this is connected to the rest of Matthew Chapter 22. What we need is a little cultural exegesis.
It is almost unheard of in an ancient Near Eastern context for a sovereign like David to call one who comes after him “Lord,” thereby granting the descendant even greater authority than the patriarch. By conventional logic, this threatens the stability of the whole patriarchal system, which depends on the head to retain permanent authority, which then gives security, identity, and stability to those who follow in the line. This is why the Pharisees are stunned and unable to give an answer to Jesus, who is arguing that David, in his enigmatic statement in Psalm 110:1, is daring to expect that someone even greater than he will emerge in his wake, to whom he will gladly submit. The Pharisees, recognizing that this could undermine the whole basis of their authority, grow silent and cease from asking Jesus any more questions.
The Jewish religious interpretations were not expecting a divine Messiah. They were expecting a warrior-king Messiah in the pattern of David, coming to wield military and physical might and re-establish the Jewish kingdom on earth. They were expecting a Messiah to affirm and abide by their longstanding traditions of their ancestors.
They were not expecting a Messiah whose power and authority were based on self-sacrificing love. They had a theological and cultural box with certain expectations about the Messiah, and Jesus did not fit into that box. This is how the two stories in this passage come together. In the first, Jesus proclaimed the foundation of his kingdom. In the second is the explanation of why the Jewish powers rejected Jesus.
Core to the tension, perhaps, is the central teaching of Jesus itself. Both to his followers (7:12) and to his opponents (22:34–40), love is the commandment on which hang all of the law and the prophets. Love, not power; love, not heritage; love, not law.
Love is the Lens
Jesus tells them, “you are wrong” (c.f., 22:29). “You don’t understand the scriptures nor the power of God” because you have failed to see the real power of God—love.
Could we become so attached to our religious and cultural boxes that we become blind to God’s power of love? What does our theology-in-practice show about God and his power? If it isn’t love, our theology is wrong.
 C.f., Romans 13:8-10 where Paul distills all of the Law into “love your neighbor.”
 Feasting on the Gospels--Matthew, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary. Location 7232.
 Feasting: Matthew, location 7334.
 Feasting: Matthew, location 7416.