Trinity 18

Matthew 22:34-46

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    One of the sad realities of life in America these days is that everything has become political.  There aren’t many areas of life left where you aren’t pressured to take up sides with this cause or that group.  Relationships with co-workers or friends or family are full of land mines if certain topics or current events come up, and you’ve got to be very careful about what you say.  Entertainers seem to be focused less on entertaining and instead are obsessed with political mocking and virtue signaling. The military and the boy scouts have become the battlegrounds where debates about gender and sexuality are fought.  Even in the once fairly politics-free realm of sports, political causes have become the focus, and everyone feels compelled to take up sides.  Everything we do now is seen through the political lens of privilege or race or gender or class.  Everyone is categorized in terms of the tribe they belong to and their identity group.  In an era where objective truth has largely been abandoned, all that’s left is power.  Have you ever noticed how often that term is used, how people feel they need to be “empowered?”  Power is the realm of politics and control and one group defeating another.

    But this is not the way of Jesus, and we’re reminded of that in the Gospel reading from Matthew 22.  Jesus is not one who was after political power.  He was not merely trying to win a victory for some group or some cause, and so He can’t really be categorized politically.  Was He a conservative or a libertarian or a progressive or a moderate?  The answer is, “None of the above.”  And just when one group or another thought that He was their man, Jesus would say something to prove that He wasn’t.null

    So for instance, just before today’s Gospel Jesus said something that the conservative Pharisees didn’t like.  They had asked him about whether or not they should be paying taxes to the foreign occupiers, the Roman government.  And Jesus famously said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  Jesus sounded a little bit pro-establishment.

    So then the establishment Sadducees came to Him, perhaps perceiving that they had an opening.  The Sadducees were more like the liberal theologians of our day.  They accepted the books of Moses, but they didn’t believe in the existence of angels or life after death or the resurrection of the body.  And so they presented a hypothetical case about a woman who had had seven different husbands during her lifetime because each of the first six had died prematurely.  They asked Jesus, “In the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be?”  I’m sure they thought they had Him cornered into their position.  But Jesus answered them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.  For in the resurrection they do not marry, but are like the angels of God in heaven.”  The Sadducees falsely assumed that the resurrection would be a restoration of things merely to how they are now in this fallen world.  But at the close of this age, all things will be brought to their completion and fulfillment in Christ in the new creation.  Believers will dwell in the glorious presence of God, just like the angels do.  We will not be married, for the Church will live forever in the perfect love of her heavenly Groom.  And Jesus gave decisive evidence for His case of resurrected life after death by quoting from the books of Moses.  500 years after the days of Abraham God had told Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive with God, their bodies awaiting the day of the resurrection.  So Jesus was no friend of these establishment leaders, either.  He wouldn’t have been a delegate at any of these groups' political conventions.

    Like the people in His day, we too naturally want to label Jesus and fit Him into our categories so that we can handle Him and manage Him.  But Jesus defies our attempts to do that, whether it’s a political categorizing, or whether it’s any other attempt to make His Word fit our agendas and support our ideologies. For as soon as we try to do that, we are making ourselves to be Lord and Master, and Jesus becomes merely the means to achieve our goals.  And that’s not how it works.  Jesus remains the Lord, and His Word is sent to accomplish His purposes, not ours.

    “Teacher,” the Pharisees asked, “which is the great commandment in the law?”  It was a question intended to categorize Jesus and to bring the Scriptures down to the mere level of talking points rather than the Spirit-filled words of God that they are.  It is written that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.  The Law cuts; it is always meant to lead us to repentance and to Christ for mercy and deliverance.

    Our Lord’s wisdom would not play the Pharisees’ game or submit to their litmus test.  So instead of choosing a single commandment, He summarized them all.  Love is the fulfillment of the law.  So Jesus answers in two parts.  First, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  That’s not something you can reduce down to a few do’s and don’ts.  For that Law commands you to love God with every fiber of your being, all that you are, with nothing held back from Him.  He wants the entire devotion of your heart.  Even more than your family or your country or the flag or any group you belong to, He wants all of your allegiance to be with Him.

    And in case someone thinks that loving God means leaving ordinary life and your fellow man, He goes on, “And the second (great commandment) is like (the first): ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  These two go hand in hand.  The love of God and the love of the neighbor are inseparable.  For God seeks to be loved in your neighbor.  The Lord Jesus–who took up our nature and truly shares in our humanity–He is present therefore in all those around us, particularly those in need, to receive our acts of kindness and self-giving.  As the proverb says, “He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord.”  That’s why Jesus says that the commands are alike: Because God is served both in love for Him and in love for the neighbor.

    And this is where the living voice of the Law nails us.  It exposes our lovelessness.  It lays bare how we sometimes use the Law lawlessly to justify ourselves and promote our own causes.  It brings nothing but judgment and death.  It calls you all to repent and to turn to Christ.

    For Jesus then gets us back on the track that leads to salvation and life.  The Pharisees had asked a manipulative Law question, but now Jesus asks a freeing Gospel question, not one that focuses on us, but one that focuses on who He is.  Jesus gets us away from religious philosophy and political debates between this or that group, and instead He leads us to meditate on the personhood of the Messiah Redeemer.  Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah?  Whose Son is He?”  They said to Him, “The Son of David.”  And that was correct.  God had promised King David in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be one of His descendants.

    Jesus then asks them this question, “How then does David in the Spirit call the Messiah ‘Lord’ in one of the Psalms?”  You see, under ordinary circumstances in Jewish culture it would be the son who refers to the father as lord or master, not the other way around.  And yet here David, the father and the great ancestor of the Christ, refers to his descendant as Lord.  Jesus asks them, “Why is that?”  Just as the Pharisees had tried to trap Jesus into a debate with a Law question, Jesus here tries to “trap” them into thinking about the truth of the Gospel with this question, to get them to see the saving reality of who He is.

    The Jews had been conceiving of the Messiah as being a combination of a great prophet and a powerful political leader, but always in the end only a man.  But Jesus here leads us to see that while He is truly human, He is more than just a man.  David calls Him lord and master because Jesus, his literal descendant, is also truly and fully God.  The Son of David is the everlasting Son of God.

    Here, then, is where the good news is for us.  Jesus, thankfully, does not come in a way that fits into our political or social categories or according to the expectations of whatever groups we align ourselves with.  He isn’t a liberal or a conservative or a moderate.  His ways are infinitely higher and better than all such categories.  He comes not in the way of fallen man but in the way of His perfect humanity.  Jesus is the only man in whom God’s love is perfectly embodied.  Jesus kept the Law perfectly, and He did so for us and in our place.  He loved His heavenly Father with all His heart, with all His soul, and with all His mind, devoting Himself entirely to doing His Father’s will.  And Jesus loved His neighbor as Himself.  He gave Himself completely to those around Him, healing them, helping them, teaching them saving truth.  In the end He gave His life away, laying it down for us on the cross.  There is no greater love than that a man lay down His life for His friends; and you are His friends whom He died for.  Through that perfect act of love and self-giving, Jesus won for you the full forgiveness of your sins.  

    Jesus said that on these two commandments of love hang all the Law and the prophets.  Jesus, who is love in the flesh, hangs on the cross for you to fulfill the Law of love perfectly.  Baptized into Him, the Law’s condemnation is taken away from you, as Romans 8 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  You are free, released, forgiven, right with God in Christ.  His self-sacrifice has rescued you from judgment and has brought you everlasting life.  For Jesus has made your enemies to be His enemies–sin and death and the devil–and by rising from the grave He has made them His footstool.  The grave is conquered; sin is taken away; Satan’s head is crushed.  All of this that you now know by faith you will see with your own eyes at Jesus’ return–when He who is at God’s right hand is revealed in all His glory, and all things that are under His feet will be put under your feet with Him.  

    So remember that our Lord Jesus works not in the way of power politics but in the way of sacrificial self-giving.  He doesn’t tell people what they want to hear in order to gain a larger following than the other side has and more power for Himself.  He tells us the truth of our sin and the truth of His blood-bought forgiveness, so that He might draw us to Himself, that we might be His own special, chosen, and beloved people and live with Him in His kingdom.  He’s not in the business of labeling people based on some worldly identity of race or sex or privilege or economic status.  Rather, He gives us all our true and eternal identity as the baptized, as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified.  That's our real group, the Church.  Those are our people, baptized believers, whoever they are.  For it is written in Revelation of those in heaven that they are from every tribe and nation and people and language.  We all are given to stand before the throne of God saying, “Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain whose blood set us free to be people of God!”  

    This Jesus, the Lamb of God, is present here now–not to rally a political following but to be pure love in the flesh for you, giving you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  Here is living theology, where the love of God and love of the neighbor all come together in Christ, love’s flesh and blood.  You are sanctified and cleansed in Christ Jesus.  You are saints before God as the epistle said–not because of the Law and what you have done, but because of the Gospel and what Jesus has done.  Continue, therefore, to believe in Him and cling to Him, eagerly waiting for His return.  For He will confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful; He will do it.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠