18th Sunday after Trinity
October 6, 2012
St. Matthew 22:34-46
In the Name of the Father and the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
First of all, in this context, we should translate the Greek word Christos not with the English cognate Christ but with the Hebrew Word, “Messiah.” It is a subtle difference, to be sure, but when a smart alek Jewish lawyer stands up and asks you what the greatest commandment in the Torah is, you don’t respond by talking about the Christ, but you talk about the Messiah.
By the way, lawyer is also a bit misleading, because these guys don’t practice law, they don’t go to court. They study the law. We would call them professors or scholars, not lawyers.
In any case, all of the laws of Moses hang on the command to love. And now we have a serious translation problem. The ESV translates verse 40 thus: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” I would like to go kick those guys in the . . . for that. This is about the dumbest mistake I’ve seen in the otherwise very good ESV. The translation of Christos as Christ and nomikos as lawyer are completely legit, even if they require some explaining for English ears. But this is not. The word here is hang not depend.
The word means to hang, such as hanging coffee cups on tree branches. But it is mostly used in the Torah to speak of hanging a corpse up after it had been stoned. In the New Testament this word mainly means “to crucify.” It is not a corpse that is hung but a living body on its way to becoming a corpse.
The Law and the Prophets don’t depend on love: they are crucified on love. And that is how the Lord gets to the real question, the one that the Torah was meant for. The Torah testifies about the Messiah and presents Him as the God-Man who sacrifices Himself in love to make us His.
The scholar, seeking to tempt Jesus, asks about the law. The Lord, seeking to save the scholar, asks about the Messiah. The real question is: “If David calls the Messiah Lord, that is, if he calls Him, YahWeh, how is it that He is His Son? Which is to ask, “if Yahweh the Lord Himself is the Messiah, and He must be, then how is it that He is also a Man, a Son of David?”
The scholar thought that he had thrown the Lord a softball. “What is the greatest commandment? Come, let us discuss together as civilized men, tap it back to me and then I will tell you that I think.” The Lord taps it back with a summary of the Shema and this bit about crucifying the Law. Then He pulls out a bazooka and blows the scholar’s head off.
He says, “You think the Torah exists as a philosophical game, a way to measure cleverness, a club to use against one another. You love to argue and exhibit how clever you are. But this is not the commons at the seminary. This is the real world and you miss the point. Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man. I desire not sacrifice, but mercy. I have not come to be served, but to serve.”
Discerning the Law’s demands takes no cleverness at all: love. Love God and neighbor perfectly. That is it, as easy as falling off the wagon and into Hell’s fire. Any child can understand what the Law demands, it takes a theologian, one who studies the Law, to give a pious excuse to pretend that we don’t. But knowing is not doing.
In any case, the scholar misses the point of the Torah. The Shema, the great creed of the Old Testament that the Lord quotes was not meant to only accuse. Listen closely to what is written in Deuteronomy 6:
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
10 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Listen Christians! This is the character of the Lord your God. He is the deliverer. He rescues out of slavery to sin. He gives to you things you did not earn, for which you did not work: cities and houses you did not build, full of things you did not buy or make, cisterns and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant. You eat and are full by grace. He provides.
That grace – that gracious providence to the unworthy and undeserving, that perfect love – crucifies the Christ upon the Law. Love crucifies the Law and the prophets. Think on this. Think on the Messiah. Meditate, contemplate, this greatest mystery and gift: the Lord your God, Yahweh Himself, the Creator of all things, has joined His creation as a Man. That is the greatest thing in all the Torah. He is David’s Lord and He is David’s Son. He is our Lord and our Brother. He has taken up our flesh in David’s daughter, Mary, and in it He has taken up our cause. He is not only our God: He is also our Man.
The scholar looked at the Law as what he should do instead of what God does for Him. The Sabbath was a burden for him. He had to keep it and to try to appease God’s wrath. But the Lord gave the Sabbath not as work, but as rest, as a gift, that the scholar might receive the Word and gift of the Lord. So also the scholar thought the sacrifices were what he did. He bought and paid for them. He did the work. But the sacrifices were always substitutes for his sin, foreshadowing what God does for men in the Messiah, providing the reconciliation and path back to God. The innocent animals are killed to feed and clothe Adam and Eve that Adam and Eve would not die and would keep their skins. The blood of the lamb causes the angel of death to pass over. The innocent die in the place of sinners and their blood delivers forgiveness of sins and reconciles men to God.
I could go and on. But the point is this: the Law is crucified in love. That is what love is: Jesus on the cross, the Father handing over the Son by the Spirit to the devil to be a Sacrifice and payment for your sins. This is the Torah, the Good News of God that shall be on your heart. It is the defining doctrine of the Holy Scripture, the fount of all our hope and life. You shall teach this diligently to your children. You shall talk of this when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind this as a sign on your forehead, a cross, drawn with oil or ashes or just traced with a human finger, to mark you as one redeemed, and it shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write it on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, which is to say that you shall decorate your house with crucifixes showing God’s love and your salvation.
What do you think of the Messiah? Do you call Him Lord as David did? Yes, indeed, God be praised, you do.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.