A superior Knowledge of God?

[]As we've been walking through the Gospel of Matthew, it's been one series after the next of Jesus, in sort of a debate on the wisdom and knowledge of God, a display of who was the superior in knowing God's will and knowing God's word. And we've heard that over the last few weeks in these interchanges between Jesus and the chief priests, Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus and the Sadducees. And now we come to one of the last, and it's the Pharisees again. Having heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they came to him with another question to try to stump him again. Last week, it was the one about paying taxes to Caesar. If you remember, Jesus used a denarius to say, "Whose face is on here and whose inscription?" He then said, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and render to God what is God's," silencing them as they tried to catch him in a politically dangerous question that could have imprisoned him.

After that, he met with the Sadducees, and we skipped that story. But a similar interchange happens and Jesus silences them, and they walk away, not knowing how to respond. In today's lesson, again Jesus is before the Pharisees. One of them, who was a lawyer and presumably one of the more wise among them, asks a question based on Scripture. "Which of the commandments is the greatest?" Now, in different Gospel stories, it's not always the same person who asks the question. In one Gospel, Jesus tells the person, "You tell me which commandment is the greatest." And we have a similar answer. But in Matthew's Gospel, in this interchange about who has superior wisdom and knowledge of God, Jesus answers the question and says to them, "You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment; and the second one is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

That response is met with silence. And you would think it would at least draw a response from the crowd when he says, "And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself." We covered the Ten Commandments just a few weeks ago and even we might say, "I don't remember that being one of the commandments." And certainly they would have that in their minds too as the Pharisees are sitting around listening to Jesus and trying to find another way to show that he is not who people say he is. But Jesus adds this little clincher: 'The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.' He says, "On these two commandments hang all of the law and the prophets." A new vision. A new vision of God's justice. Jesus adds that line in there which harkens the Pharisees back to the law and the prophets in the context of this first greatest commandment that they all presumably agree upon, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.' And now a second one, to love your neighbor as yourself.

You can imagine the Pharisees quickly going back through all the stories in the Old Testament Scriptures and looking at it from that perspective. "Did this story represent loving your neighbor, or loving your neighbor as yourself, or loving God?" You can imagine that going through their minds. And the Pharisees find themselves silenced again. And in their silence while they're trying to come up with something, Jesus hits them with his own question: "What do you think of the Messiah?" and, "Whose son is he?" The Pharisees know that people have been thinking Jesus is the Messiah, so Jesus lays the big question out there. Not, "Who do you think it is?" but "What do you think of the Messiah?" and, "Whose son is he?" going directly to the challenge that they've been trying to make in covert ways in these other chapters, trying to undermine the authority of who Jesus is.

Well, they aren't sure exactly how to answer that. If they say, "The Messiah is God's Son," and people say that Jesus is the Messiah, then they are in trouble for all that they have tried to do to get Jesus convicted of heresy. So they take the safe road and say, "The son of David." And we even say that on Palm Sunday, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the Son of David." So they use the safe words, "He's the son of David." And Jesus replies, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord?" What father calls the son 'lord'? That is completely opposite of anything that would happen in those times. So Jesus catches them in that particular instance. "How is it then that David calls him Lord?" Complete silence. And it says here, 'No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.'

It looks to me like Jesus has proven himself to be the one of superior knowledge of God. Now, to us who have been reading through the Gospel of Matthew and the miracle stories, there is no question for us that Jesus is the Messiah. But at this point, to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and the chief priests, some of them are now thinking Jesus may be who he says he is. But there is also a contingent that thinks he is not. If they had thought Jesus was this one, this Messiah come, this Son of God, the story of Jesus' life and death may be much different. At that point, people would have admittedly proclaimed him Messiah. Those in authority would have changed their minds and changed their hearts, and perhaps Jesus would have taken on the air of another great prophet and not just the Messiah, much like Moses was the greatest prophet seen until that time.

But that's not what happens. The bones of contention start to crack and crumble and fall, and Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem and his march to the Cross because those who wanted to displace him would have their final say. But what do you think? In the words that Jesus has spoken over the last few weeks and today, did he possess a superior knowledge of God? And what does it say for us, those who have read Jesus' words for centuries and relied upon these words to structure our lives? Do we, in fact, possess a superior knowledge of God because we follow Jesus as we follow his words? It's a possibility, although among Christians we can seldom agree on who has the superior knowledge of God. But, in fact, it is Jesus who has the superior knowledge of God, and the rest of us are tagging along and trying to get there, which is part of our Christian journey of faith.

I think the best place for us to start that journey in trying to attain that superior knowledge of God is with that very simplistic commandment, the great one: 'Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, your mind, your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.' If you do these things in each of your actions, you will display that you have a wonderful knowledge of God, a wonderful knowledge of God that was given to us in Jesus. That is the place for us to start. That is the place for us to live. Absorb it and enjoy it and realize the enormity of the calling that places upon us. Let us do so as we begin looking over the horizon to preparing a way for the coming of the Lord.

October 26, 2008

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