When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, Proper 25, the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud in a church by a priest on Sunday, October 29, 2017. It is important because here Jesus stated the First Commandment as the most important, with loving your fellows that are also devoted to God the next greatest commandment, from which obedience to all other laws follows naturally.
As this reading begins, we read, “When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees.” Matthew’s twenty-second chapter begins with Jesus telling the parable of the wedding banquet, followed by the test by the Pharisees as to whether or not Moses said paying tribute to Rome was legal. Prior to this reading was the approach by the Sadducees, who tested Jesus about seven sons marrying the same woman (repeatedly widowed without child), as to who would claim her as their wife in heaven, after all had died. All of these tests of Jesus are to be seen as the inspection of a sacrificial lamb for imperfections. Because Jesus continually sent his inspectors away humbled, each time he was found without blemish.
Again, these inspections are taking place in the Temple area, as the Jewish Holy Week of the Passover Festival is only days away from beginning. That commanded ritual required eight days of pious recognition of God having saved them, that year beginning at 6:00 PM on Friday – a Jewish Sabbath evening. Thus, four days of inspection becomes Monday through Thursday, with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey and her colt on Sunday – the first day of the week. Sunday was then 9 Nissan, with Monday through Thursday being 10-13 Nissan, and Friday (the day of preparation for the Sabbath) being 14 Nissan. Passover always begins on 15 Nissan.
The multiple inspections of Jesus that were done each day is then a statement that the commandment given by God, through Moses, was important:
“Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household.” (Exodus 12:3) “Y our lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.” (Exodus 12:5-6) “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD–a lasting ordinance.” (Exodus 12:14)
To put this in perspective, Jesus was not the only guy who had people running around calling him a prophet and possibly the Messiah. People thought the same about John the Baptizer (since killed). There were others as well. In a way of protecting the people from following a false shepherd, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Temple priests (all the Big Brains of Jerusalem) had taken it upon themselves to inspect all potential Christs for blemishes. In that way, they played a valuable role, just as did the leaders of the Israelite families in Egypt, who could not allow a diseased sheep or goat to have its blood shed to save lives. This was in spite of them being blind to themselves needing to be inspected.
In this reading, the inspection is a question posed to Jesus, about which of the 613 laws of Moses is most important for a Jew to obey. We then read, “[Jesus] said to [the legal beagle inspecting], “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.”
Before going beyond this point, it is important to grasp how well this statement by Jesus, about the First Commandment, fits that which was written.
The Hebrew of the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3) says: “לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל פָּנָי,” as “lo yih’yeh le’kha e’lo’him a’hhey’rim al pa’nai,” literally translated as, “NOT he~will~EXIST to~you(ms) “Elohiym POWER~s” OTHER~s UPON FACE~s~me other “Elohiym Powers” will not exist (for) you upon my face.” (Source: Ancient Hebrew Research Center) This is usually translated for English-speaking Americans as: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
(Notice how the literal translation places focus on the word “panim,” which clearly states “face.”)
Knowing that the question to Jesus was posed by a “lawyer” (“nomikos”), which is not someone versed in Roman laws, but Mosaic Law (all 613 of them), such an authority would know Hebrew and the text stated above (“lo yih’yeh le’kha e’lo’him a’hhey’rim al pa’nai”). Thus, he would not have floating in his legal mind, “You shall have no other gods before me,” as an official inspector hoping to find an ugly blemish on Jesus. Therefore, when Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” that lawyer was processing, “Does love of Yahweh, from your heart, soul, and mind, mean you do not wear the face of any other gods?”
When Jesus then went on to state, “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” … there was that “love” word (“Agapēseis”) again. Who can argue with the “love” word, especially when Exodus 20:6 says, “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”?
Hmmmmm. “Group think!” the lawyer must have thought, as he motioned to the other Pharisees standing there … speechless.
“Let’s put our heads together guys. Was that a blemish?”
As they were talking amongst themselves, Jesus asked them a legal question:
“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
After having mentioning the prophets, whose prophecies were further amendments to the Law, coming from the LORD, they (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Amos, along with some Psalms of David) were the primary ones who foretold of a coming Savior. Still, as a concept of Judaism, rather than a prophecy etched in stone (as was Mosaic Law), the standard answer was that instantly known by the Jews of the Second Temple: “The Messiah was to be a future Jewish king from the Davidic line.”
From that standard teaching that the Pharisees had memorized, they probably said in unison, “The son of David,” as a knee-jerk reaction, uncontrollable when that nerve was struck. Undoubtedly, Jesus asked a question to which he knew the answer would be, setting up his next follow-up question.
Jesus asked, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”?”
He quoted to them Psalm 110:1, which begins by stating, “Of David a Psalm said.” Jesus used the words of David himself, which the Pharisees regularly belted out in song, while drawing special attention to themselves in the synagogues. So, they knew the words Jesus quoted.
They had just never really pondered what those words meant, until then, when Jesus used that as evidence that challenged their concept of a Messiah.
When David wrote, “Yah-weh la·ḏō·nî,” the “LORD of my lord,” this is similar to the repetitious use of “Yahweh elohim” in Genesis 2 – “LORD of lords” or “God of gods” – and the use of “ĕ·lō·hê hā·’ĕ·lō·hîm , wa·’ă·ḏō·nê hā·’ă·ḏō·nîm hā·’êl” in Deuteronomy 10:17 – “God of gods, the Lord, Lord God.” Because the First Commandment refers to “elohim” – as “god powers upon a face” or “gods before me” – the Pharisees had just stepped into a trap that had them putting a human face (a descendant of David) on the Anointed One – the Son of God.
When David sang, “The Lord said to my Lord,” the Pharisees understood that “The Lord” was God (Yahweh) and “my Lord” was the Messiah, who “sat at the right hand” of God, as God’s Son, the Lord of David. Therefore, it was impossible for the Messiah to be some human to be born as the Messiah, simply from bloodline and heritage. God, and thus His Son, was more than flesh and blood.
When Jesus then asked the Pharisees, “If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?,” they just got real silent and walked away, too afraid to say anything else.
The funny thing is that was a trick question asked by Jesus; but the Pharisees were not filled with any Holy Spirit to answer. They could have said: “The Christ can be any human whom God chooses to be His Son. If the LORD is my Lord, as David said, then David was one in a long line of God’s chosen Messiahs.”
Adam was one. Abraham was one. Moses was one. Samuel was one. Elijah was one. Jesus was one, and so on. The presence of the Christ (Greek for “Messiah“) Mind means the the presence of the LORD within a human kingdom, making the LORD “my Lord.”
Therefore, the trick answer to the trick question becomes a statement of the two most important commandments:
“Anyone who loves God so much that he or she becomes the face of God on earth (a Messiah), and that face of God loves all others who wear the face of God on their faces, then the Messiah will always be a descendant of the Davidic lineage of Spirituality.”
Not many would know that answer then; but by the Fiftieth Day (6 Sivan), in remembrance of when Moses first delivered the Law to the Israelites, an ever growing number of Messiahs were then enabled to see this inference. The question now is: Are we like the Pharisees all over again (blind), or are we like the Apostles (enlightened)?