✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
The Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. The Pharisees liked that. For they and the Sadducees were in opposing camps. The Sadducees were sort of 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. The Pharisees did believe in all of those things, and they were glad when Jesus could be used as ammunition against their rivals–anything that would advance their power and their agenda. Putting it into our terms, the Pharisees were the conservatives, with their emphasis on living a righteous life according to the Law, and the Sadducees were the liberals, the more culturally elite and powerful.
We know well what it’s like to live in a world where everything has political overtones like that. There aren’t many areas of life left where you aren’t pressured to take up sides with this or that group. Relationships with co-workers or friends or family are full of land mines if certain issues of religion or sexuality or gender come up. Entertainers seem to be focused less on entertaining and more with political mocking and virtue signaling. Even in the once politics-free realm of sports, political causes are often the focus, and everyone feels compelled to take up sides for this or against that. Everything we do now is seen through the political lens of privilege or race or gender or class. 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 asserting itself against another.
But this is not the way of Jesus. 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 liberal or a moderate? Just when one group or another thought that He was their man, Jesus would say something to prove that He wasn’t.
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 an opening. But Jesus exposed the foolishness of their disbelief in life after death or the resurrection. The true God whom they claimed to worship is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus was no friend of these establishment leaders, then, either. Our Lord wouldn’t have been a delegate at any of these groups’ political conventions.
Like the people in His day, we also want to label Jesus and fit Him into our categories so that we can handle Him and manage Him–Jesus as a republican or a democrat or a free-love libertarian, Jesus as a capitalist or a socialist. You’ll notice that even unbelievers try to get Jesus on their side and will quote the Bible they never read to support their particular cause. But Jesus defies all our attempts to make His Word fit our worldly agendas and 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. If the God you worship agrees with everything you already believed, it’s probably not God you’re worshiping, but yourself.
“Teacher,” the Pharisees asked, “which is the great commandment in the law?” It was a question intended to categorize Jesus and support their self-righteous thinking. It treated the Scriptures like a textbook rather than the living, Spirit-filled words of God. Our Lord would not play the Pharisees’ game or submit to their litmus test. So instead of choosing a single commandment, He summarized them all. Since love is the fulfillment of the law, 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 bunch of 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; all of your allegiance to be with Him alone.
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 you. It exposes your lovelessness. It lays bare your self-satisfying motivations when you do engage in good works. 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 philosophizing 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 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 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 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 which you know only 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 merely 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. 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 the Lamb who was slain whose blood set us free to be children 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 ✠