No one was able to answer him

December 17, 2012

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Matthew 22:41-46.

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus questioned them, saying, “What is your opinion about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They replied, “David’s.” He said to them, “How, then, does David, inspired by the Spirit, call him ‘lord,’ saying: ‘The Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet’? If David calls him ‘lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare ask him any more questions.

Jesus quoted from Psalm 110, which is attributed to David and would have been sung by a court singer according to the New American Bible. If you read this psalm, it is clear that ‘lord’ refers to King David. Matthew had the habit of citing the scriptures to show that Jesus the fulfillment of God’s promises over the centuries. He wasn’t too concerned with accuracy or correct context, however. So, it’s a bit surprising that the Pharisees or someone else within hearing didn’t question Jesus’ interpretation. I don’t think Jesus really said this in quite this way. It seems something of the original exchange must have been lost in the decades between Jesus’ crucifixion and the writing of the gospels. In the very beginning of his gospel Matthew noted that Jesus was the son of David in the recitation of his genealogy. But here, as elsewhere, he wanted to establish that Jesus was more — he was the Son of Man, the Messiah, and the Son of God.

Mark, the earliest gospel writer, included this story as did both Matthew and Luke. So, they obviously believed it was important to tell even though the exact words may not be quite right. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary states the belief that Jesus’ question to the Pharisees was genuine. At the time there were many beliefs about the identity of the awaited Messiah. The Commentary postulates that Jesus’ questions reflect “the basic conflict between the superiority of the past (traditions and ancestors) and the new work that God is working and will complete (the kingdom of God and Christ), between the myth of origins and the power of the future. Both have value, as do old and new wine, but Jesus fights for an openness to the new, the superiority of David’s son to David himself.”

As the Pharisees’ replied, one of the most common beliefs about the identity of the awaited Messiah was that he would come from the line of David and come as a saving warrior as David did in his time. Jesus was trying to change this expectation as he did throughout his public.   The Messiah was not to come in the same way as David. He was to come to establish the kingdom of God on earth, a kingdom of peace, of compassion and justice for all. He would not come with the trappings of power and wealth, sitting on a golden throne. He had come; he was there right in front of them. They didn’t recognize him because they couldn’t see past their expectations. He had come as a common man, not as a ruler or warrior or a king robed in splendid garb and crowned with gold and jewels. He had no material possessions other than what he wore; he did not command by customary authority; he did not overthrow Israel’s foreign occupiers. He didn’t look like or act like a king, like the expected Messiah.

As Barclay writes, “Messiahship is not to be thought of in terms of Davidic conquest, but in terms of divine and sacrificial love….In him there came, not the earthly conqueror, but the Son of God who would demonstrate the love of God upon his Cross.” As the gospel says, no one was able to answer Jesus and they didn’t dare ask him any further questions. They were baffled, uncomprehending, but they could probably sense that here in this man Jesus was some presence greater than anything they were able to imagine. I like Barclay’s imagining of this scene, “There would be few that day who caught anything like all that Jesus meant; but when Jesus spoke these words, even the densest of them felt a shiver in the presence of the eternal mystery. They had the awed and the uncomfortable feeling that they had heard the voice of God, and for a moment, in this man Jesus, they glimpsed God’s very face.”

The voice of God often makes me uncomfortable. That’s the point, I think. God wants me to be uncomfortable. He wants me to get out of my comfort zone, to see what I am otherwise blind to, to hear what I tune out. He wants to shake my world so that he can get through to me. He doesn’t want me to have a ready, easy answer. He wants me to think in a new way and, more importantly, live a new way. He is showing me the way — the sacrificial love of His son Jesus. Sacrificial love.  Some days I’m up to that; most I am not.



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