Sunday Worship 25 October - The Greatest

. 5 min read

Conversation starters

  • What tough faith questions have you faced? Who asked them of you? A child? Yourself?
  • What question do you hear the Spirit asking you?
  • Jesus’ interpretive key to Scripture is the double commands to love God and neighbor. What are your keys to understanding Scripture? How does your approach to Scripture match up with Jesus?
  • What are your most wholesome experiences of human love? How can that help you understand and live out the command to love God and love your neighbor?
  • What does it mean to you to think of Jesus as Lord of Scripture?
  • Jesus is wholly God and wholly human. How is that mystery a gift to you?

We are kicking off our theme from a strange direction. It’s humor and there is a tie-in to the text, eventually. So, laugh now and we’ll tie it together later.

“I’m my own grandpa,” song by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe in 1947, a novelty/comedy piece. Latham led a radio troupe in the 1930s called the Jesters, and this piece was developed out of some remarks by Mark Twain in 1883 and old newspaper stories, some as early as 1822.


Today we come before the final two questions in a series of four controversy questions between Jesus and the religious leadership before his final Passover, before his death. We who follow Jesus know this as Holy Week. For Jesus, he and his disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, for his climactic confrontation with the powers of his time, for him to make a spectacle of the devil, triumphing by the cross. Interestingly, in Jewish Passover tradition, the father was to be asked three questions by the sons and the father was to respond with one question of his own. Roughly speaking, Matthew arranges this series of controversies in Passover week within the context of Jewish tradition (Bruner, 395).

We examined the first of the questions last week: Shall we pay taxes to Caesar or not? The second question is skipped in the traditional reading cycle we are following this year: What about marriage and the resurrection? Jesus’ response to that question is brilliant (no surprise) and a little disconcerting. But it is gospel: God is the God of the living. Next week is All Saints. We will hear the names of the honored dead, those connected to us who died in the past year. We will name them not as those dead and gone but as those living in the presence of God: Gary, Lee, Shirley, Robin, Andie, Jan, Rich, Marge, Willa, Vivian, Nancy, Danny, Carol, Betty, Ted, Carole. It is worth going back and reading that paragraph, Matthew 22.33-43.

Today we have the final two questions. Asked by the Pharisees, What commandment is the greatest? And asked by Jesus, Whose son is the Christ?

What commandment is the greatest?

They were testing Jesus. They weren’t asking a question to learn; they were asking a question to test. They were insincere. They addressed Jesus as “Teacher,” but they did not mean any respect by it (see Bruner, 411). Rabbis in the time of Jesus listed the commandments, not just the top ten, but all 613. The strictest teachers, among which the Pharisees would find themselves, said that “all God’s commandments are equallygreat, since whatever God commands is great, no matter how insignificant it may seem to us” (Bruner, citing Grundmann, 411). The logic of that conviction makes a lot of sense, but it is not how Jesus reads Scripture.

Jesus knows his answer will not satisfy them, that his answer will paint him as non-conformist. Jesus does not offer an answer that skewers them. This time his answer is straightforward. “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second one, equal in importance (Bruner, 414), is love your neighbor as yourself. From this hangs all the law and the prophets.” We here at Christ Church have become familiar with what our own Tim Vickers said and taught for years with our confirmation classes: “Love God. Love everyone.”

In this passage, Jesus not only tells us something about what he desires for us, about what the good life is like – a life passionate for God, a life lived for others. Jesus also tells us how he reads the Scripture, what he uses as an interpretive lens – this command to love God and our neighbor. This is why Jesus found it acceptable to break the Sabbath law by healing someone. This is the key that Jesus would use to read some of the terrible language of the Bible – among them cursing enemies and killing every man, woman, and child among the Canaanites. That last item is something we call “ethnic cleansing” today.

The good life, according to Jesus, is passionate for God and lived for others. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. The original Hebrew text follows the traditional prayer, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one.” The LORD is one.  The LORD is whole, complete, all. No wonder we are called to love the LORD with all.For me, I am reminded of the love that Robin and I share. It was all, it was whole, it was wholesome. She was my one and only and I was hers. There was, and is, such joy and fulfillment in that. For us, we had chosen separately that Jesus would be our all. And, together, we chose Jesus as our all. That passion for God, that life lived for each other, overflowed into a life lived for others. I recently learned, for example, that of all the family practice providers in LVHN, Robin had the most HIV/AIDS patients. There was not special program that made that happen. Her love made that happen. She did the networking. She made the calls. She cared for her patients. She loved them.

Whose son is the Christ?

Jesus response to the Pharisees regarding the greatest commandments raises another question: “Who does he think he is?” He tells us which of God’s commands are the greatest. Where does he get that authority? How does he know with such confidence? That is the matter Jesus introduces with the final question, the question Jesus himself poses. Jesus, in his declarations about the greatest commands, offers himself as Lord of Scripture. Jesus is not just the one about whom the Scripture is written, but its Lord. Jesus knows the greatest command because Jesus is the greatest, even greater than Ali.

Whose son is the Christ? The son of David. Then how does David call him his Lord, if he is David’s son? How indeed? It reminds me of that old song and joke, “I am my own grandpa.” “The Lord said to my Lord.” Jesus is David’s son. Jesus is also David’s Lord. Jesus is fully human. Jesus is also entirely God. Jesus is not 50% human and 50% God, half and half, pasteurized and homogenized. He is whole milk, wholly God and wholly human, all at the same time. Once again, we come face to face with all, whole, complete, the fullness of God.

How can this be? Jesus doesn’t give us the answer. Matthew doesn’t add that as a comment. In the pregnant pause, Jesus’ opponents determine not to ask him any more questions. Because if they contemplate Jesus’ question, they are faced with a really big question … so, if Jesus is Lord, am I willing to change my life? Am I willing to start a new life? But this pregnant pause also invites us to contemplate, like the mother of our Lord. Mary asks the announcing angel, “How can this be?” She gets an answer, but not one that reduces the mystery. And if we are willing to receive it, the mystery comes to us and a new life begins. David’s son and David’s Lord becomes our Lord and the one who loves us and gives his life for us.