The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 29, 2013
“Love and Faith”
St. Matthew 22:34-46
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” They said to Him, “The Son of David.” He said to them, “How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool”’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore. St. Matthew 22:34-46
Two words summarize the Christian’s life. They are love and faith. Knowing what love is and knowing what faith is is knowing what life is. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He came into the world so that, through him, we might have eternal life.
Jesus is our teacher. The Pharisee who tested Jesus knew him as a teacher and addressed him as a teacher. If our Lord’s enemies regarded him as a teacher, how much more should we who call ourselves by his name regard him as our Teacher? We should gladly receive instruction from Jesus, not only when we are children, but throughout our lives. Jesus teaches us the teaching that leads to eternal life. Christians must be willing to be taught by Jesus. Jesus teaches us what love is. Jesus teaches us what faith is. Love does what the law requires. Faith receives what the gospel gives. Jesus teaches us both the law and the gospel.
The Pharisee asked, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” The rabbis argued among themselves about which commandment was greater than which. Their commandments were not, strictly speaking, God’s law. They were extrapolations from the law. They had literally hundreds of commandments that were designed to enable them to follow God’s law. They confused their commandments, which were manmade, with God’s law. It’s likely that the lawyer who tested Jesus was trying to get him embroiled in a fruitless rabbinic argument.
Watch Jesus teach. While he is both David’s Son and David’s Lord, he places himself under the authority of the Holy Scriptures. Most rabbis relied on other rabbis, supporting their arguments by pointing to the dignity of the rabbis they cited. That’s typical of religious leaders, even today. But when God in the flesh gives his position on a theological topic he affirms the teaching authority – not of a group of pious, respected, or highly educated men – but of the Bible. That’s what Jesus did. When the Pharisee asked Jesus what was the great commandment in the law, Jesus quoted the Bible. He quoted from what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, that is, he quoted from the Holy Scriptures.
Jesus gave them the great commandment of the law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” He said that this was the first and great commandment. He went on to say that the second was like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” God gave Moses Ten Commandments. In fact, the ten were only two. The command to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind is a summary of the first three commandments of the Decalogue: You shall have no other gods before me; You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. The command to love your neighbor as yourself is a summary of the next seven commandments: Honor your father and your mother, You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s.
God did not give the Ten Commandments in addition to the two commandments to love God and neighbor. He gave the Ten Commandments to explain how to love God and neighbor. How are you to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind? How? By having no other gods but the true and only God, the Holy Trinity, and rejecting all other gods as idols. By worshipping him alone and acknowledging him as your greatest good. By calling on his name in prayer and thanksgiving and not misusing his name to curse your neighbor or to cover up your own sin. By gladly hearing and learning his word, attending church faithfully, reading the Bible, paying attention to what God says, and confessing his truth. This is how you are to love God.
We don’t get to define love or to set down its boundaries and limits. God does. And he does. He has explained what it means to love him with our whole heart, soul, and mind. His commandments are not hard to understand. A child can understand them. It’s not in the understanding. It’s in the doing. How are we to love our neighbor? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Honor your parents and other lawful authority. Don’t impose your undisciplined will on everyone else, but willingly follow the rules in humility as you would want others to do. Don’t do your neighbor bodily harm. Help him if he needs your help. Respect your neighbor’s marriage and keep yourself faithful to your own husband or wife. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. Help your neighbor keep what is rightfully his. Respect your neighbor’s reputation. Don’t run him down and hurt him by your tongue. Be content with what you have. Don’t think of ways of taking advantage of others to get more for yourself.
Do these commandments make sense? Of course, they do! They are perfectly reasonable. It is not so hard to understand what love requires. Even folks who rarely darken the door of the church and who might be confused about the commandments that teach us how we are to love God would readily understand the commandments that teach us how we are to love our neighbor. Showing due respect to parents is obviously a good thing to do. Bullying and tormenting people by physical intimidation or mugging people and stealing their money, or cheating on your spouse, or spreading lies about your neighbors to make yourself look good in comparison – don’t even the godless agree that these things are wrong?
In fact, even the commandments that teach us how to love God resonate with the consciences of those who don’t know God. They may not know God but they know there is a god. That’s why people always come up with some sort of religion by which to govern their lives. And that’s why whatever religion they invent includes ways to make themselves look good. People are constantly trying to justify themselves. They try to paint themselves holy. This is what most religion is all about. And it’s mostly hypocritical posturing and pretense. That’s because people haven’t loved as God’s law says they must. They’re guilty and they don’t know how to get out from under their guilt. But they try.
Sinners don’t meet the demands of love. The law of love shows them to be guilty. So Jesus asks the question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is he?” Jesus knows that the Christ is the Son of David. But he asks them: how is it that David calls his Son, Lord? And David didn’t say this as a throwaway comment of his own, as if without thinking. He said this “in the Spirit,” that is, under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. All of the psalms in the Psalter are inspired by the Holy Spirit, as we read in 2 Samuel 23:1-2:
It was God’s word that David spoke and wrote in Psalm 110, “The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.” Nobody but God can sit at the right hand of God. That’s the wonderful mystery revealed in Jesus. This is what faith grasps. He is the Son of David. The Virgin Mary was of the house and lineage of David. Jesus was David’s Son. He received his human nature from the Virgin Mary and from her alone, since she was a virgin who had not known a man.
But he was more than David’s Son. He was David’s Lord. He was the Lord God of Israel, the same Lord God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush, called him to be a prophet, and after setting Israel free from slavery in Egypt, gave to Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. This Lord of David became David’s Son in the fullness of time. To do what?
To love! And here is where love and faith meet each other. We know our duty to love, but we fall far short of it. Our sins are real sins because we have sinned against the law of love. The father of lies deceived us. Our sinful flesh seduced us. The rebellious world called us. We set aside God’s word for lies, seduction, and rebellion. We are all guilty as sin. We haven’t love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. We’ve neglected our duty to worship him. We’ve misused his name, despised his word, and laid claim to a love we didn’t fulfill. We haven’t loved our neighbor, either, but have loved ourselves first and most and we know it. God’s law of love proves it.
But David’s Son and Lord, our true God and our true brother, loved the love we failed to love. In loving God above everything else, in loving his neighbor, even those who crucified him, he not only displayed what true love is. He fulfilled it. He did it for us. Christ for us – the purity of his love, the perfection of his obedience, the glory of his holiness as he offers his love to God – it is all for us, to be reckoned to us, to cover us, to present us before God as pure, holy, and righteous. God has given us the credit for the love his Son offered on our behalf.
Faith rests the gospel. It trusts in David’s Son and David’s Lord. Faith doesn’t understand how David’s Son can be David’s Lord. Faith doesn’t care how. Faith knows that he is and faith knows why. It was for us, that our sins he bore would be forgiven and we would be set free from their curse. From this faith we learn to love.
Rolf D. Preus