In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
They heard He had silenced the Sadducees. They thought to play the part of Socrates at his worst and by clever questions they would silence Him. They caught Euthyphro the fool on his way to court and wanted to teach Him a lesson, show him that no one, not even He, is wise. Or maybe they were caught up in the same selfish spirit of Job and were eager to bring their list of complaints, of injustice, against God.
They ask, “What is the great commandment?” It is not quite so loaded as “When did you stop beating your wife,” but it is loaded. They probably aren’t thinking here of commandments 1-10, pick a number and then we’ll discuss it. At best, they’re probably meant something like, “Which precept or statute of God is most important, most central?” At worst, they might have actually been wanting to talk about the specific details of the ceremonial law. Perhaps they were hoping He’d bring up resting on the Sabbath. That is a Gospel reading of the Law. But then they could twist it on Him because He healed on the Sabbath.
Whatever they wanted, they didn’t get it. The temptation failed. Our Lord summarized the entire Law and gave the first principal: God is above all, He must be loved perfectly. And then, if that wasn’t enough, He tells them how that Law is lived on earth: love neighbor as self. There is nothing more to say, nothing to debate.
My father used to say, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Men think to play with the Law. They try to use it to their own advantage, but it backfires. Liars don’t hear the Law but the Law hears them. They get caught in their own words. My mother used to say, “Point the finger at someone and three fingers point back at you.” Preaching the law is like releasing a biological weapon on a battlefield. It is hard to aim. It goes where it pleases. It kills everyone.
The Pharisees seek to tempt Jesus and end up accused, silent, dead in the Law.
Repent. This is not an academic debate, an exercise in trivia. This is life and death. The Law demands perfect obedience. Love God and neighbor perfectly. Was the old ceremonial law hard to keep, hard to remember? This is easy to remember but impossible for fallen men. Our corrupt nature is not capable of this perfect love. We are tainted through and through, ever aware of the pull of stomachs and our groans, ever conscience of how we look, what people think, always concerned about our own health and future. Our daydreams give us away. Even if we daydream of being charitable, we dream of being famous for it, of giving speeches, of being recognized.
Who here has not fantasized about the death of his spouse? About perversions of the flesh? About vengeance for some small insult or slight? What is wrong with us? We know what is good, but we still turn toward evil. Here is what is wrong: we are sinners full of sin. The Law stands against us. It shows us our sin, exposes and accuses us. The Law is good and demands only what is good but we are evil and cringe at the thought of inviting homeless people into our homes.
The Pharisees meant it for evil. The sought to tempt Jesus. But Jesus meant it for good. He switched it. The Law left them silent. But He had a question of His own, “What do you think about the Christ? Who Son is He?” By God’s grace they sputter out, “David’s Son.” Good answer. But Jesus seems to know Socrates as well and here is Socrates at His best. Jesus has a follow-up question meant not to tempt or shame the Pharisees but to lead them to the Truth. He asks, “If He is David’s Son how is it that David calls Him Lord?”
Sometimes we fail to see that Jesus is reaching out to the Pharisees. They come with torches and clubs, and angry mob, bent on His destruction, hating Him only because He is not like them. And again and again, He welcomes and invites them in. Don’t hate the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t and doesn’t. And they’re a lot like you. When He reaches out to them, when He invites them to contemplate how it is that David’s Son is David’s Lord, He is inviting you into the mysteries of the Kingdom.
David’s Son is David’s Lord because He is the Lord. He is the deliverer of Israel who spoke from the burning bush, the pillar of fire that led them by night, that sent food from heaven. Here is the great surprise of the Old Testament: The Lord that the Law commands we love perfectly and without fail loves us perfectly and without fail – despite our imperfections and failures. He is constant. He is trustworthy. He is merciful.
Our Lord might have asked the Pharisees, “How is that the bush burned but was not consumed? How is it that Adam ate the fruit but did not did? How is it that Joseph was betrayed and left for for dead but rescued and forgave his brothers?”
We can ask those questions and more. How is that faith saves and Baptism saves? How is that Jesus is taken from the sight of the Emmaus disciples if He is abiding with them? How is it that the risen Christ gives Himself for food in His Supper? How is that a pastor forgives sins and the Bible delivers God’s Word? How is it that we are joined to the saints in heaven or that a blind man is healed by spittle and mud? How is it that God hears our prayers and the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for us? How is that the dead will rise on the last day and the just shall live by faith?
But there really is no better question than “What do you think of the Christ?” Even as all the Law leads back to “You shall have not other gods,” so also all Theology, both Law and Gospel, lead eventually here: “What do you think of the Christ?” He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He has the words of eternal life. There are no other questions, no other answers.
And in Him, it is good to be a Pharisee, fallible, stubborn, arrogant, sinful – but forgiven, loved, sanctified, fed. It is not really a question seeking an answer. “What do you think of the Christ?” is an invitation to peer into heaven, into God’s Grace, to think about the Christ, to think about God’s love, and then, of course, to actually receive it.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.