"Christ-Shaped Love" Bible Study on Matthew 22:34-46
October 21, 2020, 1:17 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Matthew 22:34-46 (Common English Bible).

34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,[a] and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

41 Now as the Pharisees were gathering, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

“David’s son,” they replied.

43 He said, “Then how is it that David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, called him Lord when he said, 44 The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right side until I turn your enemies into your footstool’?[c] 45 If David calls him Lord, how can he be David’s son?” 46 Nobody was able to answer him. And from that day forward nobody dared to ask him anything.

Last week, the Gospel Reading gave us a chance to take the scenic route on our way to ascertain the political implications of the gospel, the relation between the church and the state, through the Pharisees' attempt to trap Jesus with a question about what Jews can give to Caesar (Matthew 22:15-22).

In this week's Gospel Reading (Matthew 22:34-36), Jesus has just won a debate with the Sadducees regarding the resurrection.  The Sadducees accepted only the Torah (first five books of Moses) as scripture and rejected the resurrection of the dead.  Since Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, it was now the Pharisees turn to question Jesus.

The Pharisees send a lawyer (no deed too dirty to get the lawyers involved, right?) to test Jesus.  He asks Jesus to tell them which of the commandments of the Law is the greatest.  Jesus, never one to give a straight answer to a simple question, begins by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength."  This is the second verse of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) which is called Shema because that is its first word, translated "hear."  The Shema would be among the texts in the tefillin (small leather boxes containing tiny scrolls of scripture from the Torah) affixed by Jesus' interlocutors to their arms and heads during prayers in accordance with Deuteronomy 6:8, which prescribes this practice as a way to sign or symbolize, as part of how to keep the Law upon the mind of God's chosen people.

Jesus does trade in another faculty to the list given by Moses in the Shema.  Jesus keeps heart and being (Greek: psyche, traditionally rendered "soul"), but for strength (Greek: dynamis, power, think dynamite) Jesus prefers what the Common English Bible translates "mind" (Greek: dianoia) -- it's the rational faculty, what we sometimes call the intellect, the part of us that is engaged by math problems and sometimes maybe even earnest arguments in search of the truth.  To love God with everything that we are, this, Jesus says, is the "first and greatest commandment" (Matthew 22:38).

This answer might have been sufficient to answer the lawyer's question, with a little twist thrown in at the end there.  But Jesus continues on and gives its corollary, the second among the commandments, quoting Leviticus 19:18: "You must love your neighbor as you love yourself" -- before he makes clear what he means in his claim that these are first and second among the commandments, "All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands."  The Law and Prophets don't hang upon love as a general principle but on two imperatives to love: love God and love neighbor as self, the latter implied by and subordinate to the first.

In our Gospel Reading, Jesus seizes the means of interrogation and challenges the lawyer and the rest of the Pharisees, "What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?'  They're quick to throw an answer back at him: "David's Son" (Matthew 22:42).  Jesus wastes no time congratulating them on knowing the right answer; he jumps straight to the brainteaser, "Then how is it that David inspired by the Holy Spirit, called him Lord when he said, The Lord said to my lord, 'Sit at my right side until I turn your enemies into your footstool'?  If David calls him Lord, how can he be David's son?" (Matthew 22:43-45)  Matthew records this as being adequate to ward off further interrogation by the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus, saying that "from that day forward nobody dared to ask him anything" (Matthew 22:46).  Those of us who can now read this story knowing that Jesus as the Christ is the son of David and Son of God have that advantage over Jesus' interlocutors.  It's less of a challenge to us in that way, less brainteaser than knowing wink.

Yet doesn't knowing that Jesus Christ is David's heir (and Moses' as well), the only begotten of God, and the Sovereign of all sovereigns give us the key to far more than this little story in Matthew of an internecine dispute among rival Jewish teachers?

Because Jesus is the give everything, receive everything crucified and risen Savior, we can love God, our neighbos and ourselves by the Spirit in the same way that God loves us.  Loving God with all we've got and loving our neighbors and ourselves turns out not to be common sense, generic advice but ends up being a whole new way of living when we find out what love is at the cross and empty tomb.

That kind of love includes people with whom we disagree.  And that's worth remembering, especially during this stressful time of COVID-19 and social unrest and as we head to the polls.


Pastor Greg Rupright


10-22-2020 at 3:55 PM
Pat May
Well-timed message!
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