The Hinge, The Two Great Commandments
Pentecost 23A Matthew 22:34-46
Pentecost 22B Mark 12:28-34
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 248.
THE LARGER CONTEXT OF MATTHEW 22:34-46, MARK 12:28-34
TEACHINGS AGAINST THE RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP
After the cleansing of the temple, there are several consecutive stories against the religious leadership. (SYNOPSIS OF THE GOSPELS, Aland, pp. 237-253))
The religious leadership consisted of the Pharisees, Sadducees, chief priests,
scribes and others in authority.
- Jesus curses the fig tree.
- The chief priests and scribes seek to destroy him.
- The fig tree is withered (symbolic of the Pharisees)
- Jesus teaches in the temple with authority and challenges the Pharisees.
- Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants (Pharisees) who killed the servants (prophets) and also the Son (Jesus) of the owner. Jesus teaches that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you (Pharisees) and given to people who produce the fruit of it (the tax collectors and prostitutes).” When the Pharisees heard these two parables (the two sons and the wicked tenants), they tried to arrest Jesus.
- Jesus tells the parable of the Marriage Feast where people offered flimsy excuses not to come.
- The Pharisees seek to entangle him in a debate about not paying taxes.
- The Sadducees try to entangle him in a debate about the resurrection.
- A lawyer of the Pharisees try to entangle him in a debate about the great commandment.
- The Pharisees seek to entangle him in a debate about the Messiah and his origins.
- Jesus teaches his disciples about the phoniness of the Pharisees (Matthew 23).
- Jesus’ laments over Jerusalem.
- We remember that Sessions 18-20 in the course LIFE OF CHRIST were also teachings against the Pharisees who represented the leadership of the temple.
- We remember that these religious leaders:
-Loved their religious traditions more than God and neighbor.
-Loved their interpretations of the Old Testament more than God and
-Loved their money more than God and neighbor.
-Loved their political power more than God and neighbor.
-Loved their religious power more than God and neighbor.
- Talked a good line but did not live it.
-Were the epitome of hypocrisy.
-Were blind to God, God’s love, God’s Word, God’s truth, and God’s Son.
- Each individual section needs to be read as part of the whole section. The teachings in this section are persistently against the religious leadership e.g.
the Pharisees perceived that Jesus told this parable against them.
We recall the parable/teaching of The Fig Tree. For Jesus, the barren fig tree was leafy but had no fruit. The barren fig tree symbolized the Jewish religious leadership of Jesus’ day. These religious leaders talked a good religious talk and used all the right “buzz words” and clichés but did not put their words into actions in their daily lives. The fig tree symbolized the Pharisees who appeared healthy and leafy (like a fig tree) but produced no fruit of love.
Today, this fig tree symbolizes any Christian life which talks the talk but does not walk the walk. The apparently healthy fig tree without fruit symbolizes an apparently healthy Christian life that does not produce actions and behaviors that God wants from us.
The tree looks healthy but it is not. A religious life looks healthy but it is not. A Christian can use all the right buzz words, read the Bible, attend church and do all the churchy things but lives a lie and does not demonstrate the love of Christ in daily actions.
#282. THE GREAT COMMANDMENT Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28
This story about the Great Commandment belongs here in this context. This is the best place for this story. This story fits perfectly well in both Mark and Matthew. As “would be” students of the life of Jesus and the four gospels, we have come to trust Mark’s chronology. We can understand why Luke inserted this story into Luke 10, but the story makes more sense when it is placed here in this location of the Jesus Story.
Luke inserts the story of the lawyer in Luke 10 because the story fits perfectly with Luke’s next story about the Good Samaritan. In fact, the story of the lawyer’s question and the parable of the Good Samaritan are essentially one story. It is the combination of these two episodes that make for one of the finest stories ever told. But we are aware that the combination is uniquely Lucan and does not follow the sequence of the story in Mark and Matthew.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, Matthew continues the story from the previous entanglement with the Sadducees.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. Note that Luke’s version of the story also has a lawyer asking the important question. The lawyer was an expert in his knowledge of the Torah, the Law, the first five books of the Bible.
The lawyer asked a question of Jesus to test him but it was really a question to trick him. That was the purpose of the Pharisees: to trick Jesus into making a verbal mistake whereby they would find legitimate reason to arrest and crucify him.
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?/”What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Luke’s question by the lawyer is different that Matthew’s question. Luke asks, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a basic, universal question that is asked by almost all human beings, even today. In Mark and Matthew, the question is more of a Jewish question. That is, “What is the greatest/first commandment of the law?” Mark and Matthew were asking a fundamental Jewish question; Luke was asking a fundamental universal question. Luke’s gospel was written with words and thought patterns which appealed to a larger world.
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.' /and with all your strength. Luke adds a sentence before the first commandment, “The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
Luke adds “strength.” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Circle the word, “your.” This commandment is intensely person. The Lord is “our” God. The “your” or “our” is a personal relationship. Also note the “your” heart, your soul, your mind, your strength. These pronouns are personal. Circle the word, “your,” four times in this short Bible verse.
This is the basic and first commandment of Jesus and of God and of life. We are to love our God with all our heart, with all our soul and spiritual emotions, with all the strength and vitality of our inner lives, and with all our brains and human brilliance. This is what God wants from us more than anything else. God wants us to love our God with “all” that is within us. This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema, the basic tenet of Judaism. Circle the word, “all,” four times. We are not to love the Lord our God a little bit of ourselves but with all the energy of our heart, minds, souls, and strength.
This is the greatest and first commandment. This commandment is basic. This is fundamental to life. This commandment is greater than the second commandment. Although the second commandment cannot be separated from the first commandment, the first commandment is still the first and most important.
This commandment applies to a modern world which often finds it difficult even to believe in God. This commandment also applies to the lives of modern busy Christians who don’t have time for God because life is more than full.
Christians in all ages and all generations needs to recover and rediscover what it means to love our God with all one’s heart, mind, soul and strength.
And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Jesus invites us to love our neighbor deeply, as deeply as we human beings look out for our own welfare.
Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18b. This was the first time in human civilization that any person has ever uttered this sacred combination: “the love of God and the love of neighbor.” The two laws were combined into one moral law. Neither law was to stand on its own; the two laws were to be inner connected. Jesus was seminal, was the first, was the spiritual genius who combined these commandments into one.
The second commandment of Jesus is not so much a psychological truism (“We human beings are to have an inner healthy love and acceptance of our selves, whereby we can truly love someone else.”) as a religious truism (“We human beings are to focus on our neighbors needs as much as we do our own.”)
We are to focus on the needs of our neighbor as much as we focus on the needs of our selves.
In spite of the modern interpretations that we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” this is not a third commandment as is sometimes speculated. The text is clear: there are two commandments treated as one commandment. There is no hint of a third commandment.
This teaching is similar to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule. (Matthew 7:12) “"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Or as many of us learned this Bible verse long ago, “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” This summarizes the whole Old Testament.
This is at the core of cores of Jesus’ teaching: to love the Lord your God with all the energy you have and also to love your neighbor as yourself. The Pharisees and other religious leaders did not comprehend this simple but profound teaching of Jesus.
When we hear these words, we know that we are close to the center of Christianity, that we are close to the heart of God. The cross of Christ, the most important symbol of the Christian faith, has two dimensions: a vertical love to God and a horizontal love towards our neighbors
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Jesus uniquely joined Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18 into one universal commandment. Neither love of God and love of neighbor can be separated from each other.
The “law and the prophets” refers to the Old Testament. The entire Old Testament hangs or hinges on these two basic, interconnected commandments. What good is knowing the contents of the Old Testament without living out the Great Commandment?
Read the sermon which is based on the gospel text for this Sunday. The sermon focuses on the word, “hinge.” The title of the sermon is THE HINGE. (A basic metaphor in that sermon is about a hinge: A door cannot open without two hinges on it. Only when there are two hinges can a door swing in and out. To love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor are the two necessary hinges on which the whole Bible swings. Without the hinges, the Bible/the door is relatively useless. The Bible becomes effective in a person’s life only when the two hinges are in working order.)
The Gospel of Luke says, “There is no other commandment greater than these.” For the Gospel of Luke, the commandments are not two but one commandment fused together into seamless harmony.
Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,” and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself,” —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ (only Mark) The “burnt offerings and sacrifices” is a quotation from Hosea 6:6. The phrase, “burnt offerings and sacrifices,” symbolizes religious traditions. The scribe is really getting close to the core of Jesus’ message. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself is vastly more important that all religious traditions. It is also vastly more important than all religious ideas/interpretations/doctrines. We are at the heart of Jesus’ teachings.
-When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ (only Mark)This is good. The scribe is getting close to the right answer.
It is interesting that Matthew, who copies 92% of the contents of the Gospel of Mark, omits the previous two comments from Mark’s gospel. Was it too strong a statement for the Jewish leaning Matthew to say that the love of God and neighbor was more important than burnt offerings in the Old Testament? We do not know why Matthew omitted these two sayings from the Gospel of Mark, but it seems that Matthew wanted to keep his Law and Prophets intact and that Jesus had come to fulfill them, not to depreciate them or diminish them. The two statements by Jesus in Mark could be interpreted as depreciating and diminishing the Law.
-Jesus said to him, “You have answered rightly. Do this and you will live.” (only Luke)This is at the heart of the teachings of Jesus. We are not simply to mouth these words, pray these words, think these words, philosophize about these words but we are to do them. When we do these teachings, we find life and we will live. Jesus, in Mark’s version of the story, states a similarly profound teaching: “When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”
Jesus said, “Do THIS and you shall live.” He did not say, “Do THESE and you shall live.” It is as if Jesus treated the two commandments as one and that they could not be separated from each other. Luke also said, “There is no other commandment (singular) greater than these (plural).
This is not a “works righteous” kind of religion. That is, a person does not do works of love in order to be saved. It is just the opposite. Because we are saved and God’slovelives within us, therefore we have hearts of love and do acts of love. This is “because-therefore” religion and not “if-then” religion. Because God loves us and God’s love lives within us, therefore love flows out of us from God. This is not “if-then” religion. “If we are good and loving, then God’s love lives in us. If we are loving, then we are saved.”
-After that no one dared to ask him any question. (only Mark)
-But he/the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (only Luke) This is fundamental in life. If Jesus invites us to deeply love God and deeply love our neighbor, the almost inevitable question is: “Who is my neighbor?”
-Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.” (only Luke) This story is one of the most loved and famous stories in all of literature. The “feel” of this parable is much different than the beginning parables that we studied in Matthew e.g. the parables of the sower, the pearl, the net, etc. Those parables in Matthew 13 functioned more like analogies. This Lucan parable is a wonderful, well-crafted literary story. By creating this touching and realistic story, Jesus shared with us a profound moral truth about God’s way of living and loving.
Intuitively, I think we substitute the word, “family” for neighbor. That is, we are to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and our family as ourselves. Our Mom and Dad, brother and sister, Grandma and Grandpa, we are to be filled with love for our family. Intuitively, I think many of us interpret “neighbor” as family. But we quickly recall that even the Pharisee loved their children and parents.
Or we think that to love our neighbor is to love our friends, our friends at church, our friends at school, our friends at camp.
Or we think that to love our neighbor is to love the people next door, the people in the house or condominium or apartment next to us who drive the same kind of cars and wear the same kind of clothes as we do ourselves. We are to love them as we love ourselves.
Intuitively, we think we think we know what the word, “neighbor,” means.
But in Luke’s version of this story for today, the Pharisee then asked the question: “Well, Jesus, who is my neighbor?” He wanted a definition of neighbor and so do you and I. Who do you mean by “neighbor,” Jesus? Jesus said, “There once was a man walking down the Jericho Road.” This man was beaten up by robbers and life and left there to die. Who is our neighbor? They are the people who are beaten up by life, who get smashed up by life? In the gospel of Luke, the neighbor is the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame, the lepers. And who gets beaten up and smashed up in your world and mine today? The poor. Drug infested families. Starving people. Hungry people. Those in jail, prisons, sick, homeless. “Who is my neighbor” is not necessarily my family, friends or the people next store but those who are being beaten up by life.
#283. THE QUESTION ABOUT DAVID’S SON Matthew 22:41-46, Mark 12:35-37a, Luke 20:41-44
This section of Scripture is part of Pentecost 23A from Matthew but not part of Pentecost 22B from Mark.
-While Jesus was teaching in the temple, (only Mark)
-Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: In this section, we recall that Jesus was entangled in debate with the Pharisees.
There were four questions in these debates: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” “In the resurrection, which of the seven husbands who died will be this widow’s wife?” “Which is the greatest commandment?/What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And the question that Jesus asked of the Pharisees: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son if he?”
-“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 (inspired) by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, Why it is that the translation by the New Revised Standard Version omits the word, “inspired?” “David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared,”Circle the words, “inspired by Holy Spirit.” In other words, King David was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So was Jesus. So is our Bible. So are you and I. At the heart of life is being inspired by the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
A question still persists: Why does the NRVS of the Bible omit the word, “inspired” from its translation?
This use of the phrase, “inspired by the Holy Spirit,” is unusual. That is, we have not run into this phrase or a similar phrase previously in our study of the life of Christ.
Even though the first Christians waited for the anointing of the Holy Spirit to come upon them after the Ascension, this does not mean that there was no Holy Spirit previous to Pentecost. The Holy Spirit/the Spirit/the Spirit of God is God and was present at the beginning of time and was the agent of creation. The same Spirit of God at Pentecost and the same Spirit of God that created the world was the same Spirit of God who inspired King David.
-"The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet" Jesus knew his Old Testament incredibly well and quoted Psalm 110:l, “The Lord said to my lord. ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.”
Acts 2:34 used the same logic: “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I make the enemies your footstool.” The first “Lord” refers to God the Father; the second “Lord” refers to God the Son Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of the Father. The Book of Acts continues, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made him (Jesus) both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Near the first “the Lord” write the word, “God.” Near the words, “my Lord,” write the word, “Jesus.” In other words, Jesus is my Lord.
-' If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?" What astonishing cleverness by Jesus. We shake our heads with amazement. The marbles in our minds roll around and bump into each other as we strain to comprehend Jesus’ logic and reasoning. “David calls him Lord, so how can he also be his son?”
Write the sentence, “Jesus is both Lord and Son.” This is what God and the Bible is teaching us about Jesus. Jesus is both the Lord of our lives and is also the Son of God.
-No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. The crowds liked Jesus. He was so different that the theological sterility of the rabbis of his day.
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