|Sermon Archive of The Most Rev. John T. Cahoon, Jr.
Metropolitan, Anglican Catholic Church
TRINITY XVIII, October 22, 2000
Jesus' enemies decide to kill him largely because they cannot beat him in debate. The debates Jesus has with his enemies are not about health care or abortion or the size of government, but they do result in capital punishment—his crucifixion.
Today's gospel lesson comes from St. Matthew's account of the last week of Jesus' life—what we might call the first Holy Week. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on Sunday, that proclaimed that he was the rightful king of Israel, and the crowd cheered him.
But as the week went on, Jesus did not act as the crowd thought a king should act. He did not raise an army to challenge the Roman occupying government. Instead, he did what he usually did when he came to Jerusalem. He went to the area around the temple and preached and taught and debated about the Bible.
As St. Matthew tells the story, during the week each of the three major groups within Judaism asked Jesus a question with which they hoped to trip him up. They were all questions to which any answer he might give could make him look bad.
The supporters of the puppet dynasty of the Herods asked him if it was proper to pay taxes to Caesar. If he said, "Yes," they could denounce him as a collaborator. If he said, "No," they could attack him for being a rebel. Then the highly rational Sadducees asked him a question which was intended to make Jesus' proclamation about the resurrection of the dead seem completely absurd.
Finally, as we see today, the Pharisees—law-abiders, rule-followers, and the group with which Jesus was most connected--came to him with a final question. Their question was, "Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
That sounds fairly innocent. The trick was that the rabbis taught that all of the commandments were important. The Law formed, as it were, a seamless garment. To take one commandment and set it above all the others would start a process of unraveling.
The issue was not which commandment Jesus would say was most important. It was that if he said any was greater than the others, he would be revealed as someone whose goal was to destroy religious tradition—not necessarily a helpful reputation for a holy man to have.
Jesus, for all intents and purposes, says, "There is not one greatest commandment, there are two." The two are—love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The entire Hebrew Bible—the law and the prophets—is summed up in that double commandment. The Pharisees, who realize that they have been outwitted yet again, make no response to what he says.
Having won all three skirmishes, Jesus now asks the Pharisees a question. "When the Messiah comes, from whom will he be descended?" They reply, correctly, "The Messiah will be descended from King David."
Then Jesus says, "Well, if that is true, that makes it difficult to explain the first verse of the 110th Psalm." Everyone agreed that Psalm 110 was about the coming Messiah—the Christ who would enter the world some day to save and rescue the Jews.
Verse one of Psalm 110 reads, "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool." The person speaking is King David, who wrote the psalm. He is saying "The Lord"—that is to say, God the Father--"said to my Lord"—that is to say, the Messiah—"sit here next to me on my right, until I destroy your enemies."
The problem is that nobody ever calls someone in the family who is younger than he is his lord. By calling the Messiah his Lord, David implies that the Messiah is older than he is. But because David lived a thousand years before today's scene, and since it appeared that the Messiah had not yet come, the Messiah must, in fact, be younger than David.
Jesus wanted to know how the Pharisees dealt with the paradox that the psalm verse raised. How can the Messiah be both older than David and younger than David at the same time? Again the Pharisees are silent. St. Matthew reports, "And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions."
In terms of the overall dramatic action of the story, this is the point at which the Pharisees decide that the only way to deal with Jesus is to kill him. They were the great debaters and Bible interpreters. He proved that he could beat them at their own game and humiliate them in front of the people whose respect they needed to have. The only way to shut him up was to have him done away with once and for all.
As far as the Bible interpretation goes, Jesus is not particularly trying to get them to believe that he is the Messiah himself. He knows that is a lost cause. He does want them to admit that their own Scriptures say that the Messiah is going to be more than just a descendant of David.
The only way the Messiah can be both older and younger than David is if he is God. He is older because he has been from before the beginning, and he is younger because he entered human history a millennium after King David lived. Jesus the Messiah is both God and man. That is why only he can reconcile us to God.
So "Hail to the Lord's anointed, great David's greater Son."
The Collect: Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Epistle: I Corinthians 1:4 - 8
The Gospel: St. Matthew 22 : 34 - 46
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