Proper 25, Year A: Matthew 22: 34-46: Commanded to Love

Jesus Christ mosaic icon

Source: iStockphoto.com

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Proper 25, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The Pharisees are questioning Jesus again. This time an expert in the Law of Moses asks Jesus this: “Teacher, which command in the law is the most important?”

Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.’ All of the law and the writings of the prophets take their meaning from these two commands.”

If this was meant to be a trick question, Jesus answered it well. And I think it’s an important lesson for Christians today–such a succinct answer for how we should live. Love God and love others. Love in this case is not some mushy feeling but an unconditional love and an action. You have to choose to live that love–it’s not just the emotion of a moment. It takes work and practice. Love does not always come easily. We must make it a part of every aspect of our lives as much as possible.

Next, Jesus asks them a tricky question in return: “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

They give the accepted answer: “The Messiah is the Son of David.”

So Jesus says,

“Then why did David call him ‘Lord’? David was speaking by the power of the Spirit. He said,

‘The Lord God said to my Lord:
Sit by me at my right side,
    and I will put your enemies under your control.’

David calls the Messiah ‘Lord.’ So how can he be David’s son?”

He is quoting from a Psalm here, and the Psalms are generally believed to be written by David. The Pharisees have no answer for his puzzling question, so they were not brave enough after that to ask him any more challenging questions.

 

I love how Jesus turns the tables on them and gives them their own theological challenge–except in their case they have no answer. He challenges them to contemplate the Messiah in a new way–as someone like David but also greater than David. They don’t know what to make of it.

Easter 6, Year A: Acts 17:22-31: To an Unknown God

Areopagus Hill

Areopagus Hill – Source: iStockphoto.com/milangonda

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the reading from the book of Acts.

In this story, Paul was in Athens standing in front of the Areopagus. The Areopagus is a rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis. (see the pic above). It was also the site of a governmental body (the Council of the Areopagus), which tried serious crimes like homicide, but apparently met for other matters as well. Earlier in the chapter it reads, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.” I admire their curiosity. Apparently, they were curious about what Paul had been arguing about all over town and brought him to the Areopagus to find out.

Paul noted there that the Athenians had erected an altar with the inscription, “To an Unknown God,” like they were really covering their bases in case they didn’t know about all the gods. Paul uses this as a clever segue with the words, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” to introduce them to God and the story of Jesus.

Paul was probably a very educated man, from all accounts. He was a Jew, but also a Roman citizen, which allowed him some freedoms and privileges other Jews in the Roman empire lacked. You can see him using his education in this sermon at the Areopagus as he quotes Greek poets:

[H]e is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.

He is explaining God as omnipresent creator and disdaining the practice of creating gods formed by human hands. I love the idea of the “unknown god” and the mystery of God who is so beyond understanding. I also love Paul’s passion here. He yearns to bring people to know the God he knows. He is dismayed by the evidence of their many idols, but not condemnatory. He instead reaches out to them to tell them about Jesus and his resurrection. He doesn’t want God to remain unknown to the Athenians. Sharing the love of God is like sharing your love for other people, in some ways—like the way people newly in love can’t help but go on and on about their beloved—so Christians should be about the love of God. Some people laughed when he talked of Jesus’ resurrection, but others wanted to know more. And the same is true today—some will dismiss Christianity but some will embrace it. We must just continue being witnesses in the Jesus Movement.