Sunday, October 23, 2011

Homily for The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 18)


Matthew 22:34-46; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Deuteronomy 10:12-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

When it comes to which is the greatest commandment in the Law, perhaps surprisingly, there is complete agreement between the Pharisees and Jesus. Indeed, the oft disparate Rabbi and the Pharisees agree: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, when Jesus gave this answer to the lawyer who questioned him, the teachers of the Law had to be satisfied; Jesus gave the correct answer, just as any of them would have answered themselves.

Indeed, Jesus’ answer is agreed upon as true and good amongst all three of the great Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three of the world’s greatest religions agree that the greatest commandment in the Law is that you should love God above all things and that you should love your neighbor as yourself.

Why, then, if they agree, did the lawyers and the Pharisees reject Jesus as God’s anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ of God? Why, then, if they agree, do both Jews and Muslims reject Jesus? Well, that is precisely the question that Jesus asked the Pharisees after He had correctly answered their question to Him concerning the greatest commandment of the Law. Jesus asked, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” For, your answer to that question reveals how you understand the Law of God. Indeed, your answer to that question reveals if you understand the purpose of the Law at all.

Jesus’ question is not a new question. In fact, it is a question that He seems to have routinely asked people. Indeed, it was a pivotal point in the Gospel when Jesus asked His disciples a form of this same question saying, “Who do people say that I am?” They said to Him, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus praised Peter for his bold confession saying, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

But, what did Peter say that elicited such praise from our Lord? Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the anointed of the Lord, and the very Son of God. That is precisely what the lawyers and the Pharisees did not confess the Christ to be. They answered that the Christ was the son of David, that is, a man, but they did not believe the Christ to also be the Son of God. What they were looking for in the Christ was a great and holy man, a great example of faith and obedience to the Law, a great rabbi or prophet, but not the Son of God.

They believed that the Christ would be a great leader and teacher who would show them how to fulfill the Law of God and be justified by their obedience to the Law. Because they strove so very hard to be obedient, naturally they looked down on others whom they judged to be less obedient, particularly notorious sinners, prostitutes, the sick and unclean, and other outcasts. They did not love these less-than-righteous and they believed that they were justified in their lovelessness because there was nothing in them meriting their love. And so, you can see how men who claimed to uphold the great commandment of the Law, to love God with all that they are and to love their neighbor as themselves, in actuality did not love their neighbor, and therefore they did not love God.

If the Christ were merely a man, even a perfectly obedient and sinless man, then we sinners would still be in our sin. We would still be bound under the Law to perfect and sinless obedience, and thus, we would stand condemned and consigned to death and hell. But, if the Christ were also the Son of God in human flesh, incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered unto death and was buried and on the third day rose again from the dead, then we are freed from the condemnation of the Law and we live in the grace, mercy, and loving forgiveness of God and can freely love our neighbors with His love, needing not to worry about our own standing before God.

To set the lawyers and the Pharisees straight, Jesus quoted the words of King David in Psalm 110, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?” If this seems confusing to you, that is because, in our contemporary English, the two uses of the word “Lord” seem to be the same. However, in the original Hebrew in which the Psalm was written, the first “Lord” is the divine name of God, YHWH, or ADONAI which pious Jews would use to replace the divine name which they would not speak. Thus, what David has truly said is, “God said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’.” And so, the Christ, whom the lawyers and the Pharisees see only as the son of David, the son of a man, David himself calls his Lord. Further, this Lord of David is seated at the right hand of God to rule over all things. Clearly, the Christ is much more than the son of David, but He is the Son of God Himself.

Every single human being who lives, has lived, and ever will live knows the Law of God, for all of creation testifies to it and it is written on our very hearts. But the Law of God cannot save, but it only condemns. The Law of God causes us to despair of life and salvation because of our disobedience and unworthiness or it causes us to become puffed up with self-righteousness and pride believing that we are so much better than the disobedient sinners we see all around us. Thus, to believe in the Christ of God, even Jesus, as the best of men, the best at keeping the Law of God, a great example of piety, obedience, and faith is a no-brainer. Indeed, many believe Jesus to be a great moral and ethical teacher, but that does not make him any different than other great moral and ethical teachers such as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa. They are all men, they all sin, they all die, and none of them can save you. But, to believe that the Christ of God, even Jesus, is no mere man but the holy Son of God in human flesh, that is a truth revealed only by the Holy Spirit of God.

Jesus said that David confessed this truth “in the Spirit” just as did St. Peter of whom Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Likewise, as we near the end of this Church Year, we are building to the proclamation of the fullness of our confession, in the Spirit, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and the King of the universe who fills and sustains all things. And then, as we begin a new Year of Grace with the beginning of Advent, we will confess in the Spirit, once again, our Lord’s incarnation when the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us and the Son of God became the Son of Man, even the son of David, the Christ. Blessed are the eyes that see what you see and the ears that hear what you hear.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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