Matthew 22: 34-46

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 29, 2017.

The lectionary seemingly assigns us two moments in Matthew this week. In the first, Pharisees test Jesus’ legal knowledge, prompting him to offer his infamous articulation of the greatest commandment. In the second, Jesus turns the tables, quizzing his inquisitors about the Messiah, ultimately leaving them speechless. The temptation here is to pick a passage like we pick our news outlets, zeroing in on one (likely the first) to the complete exclusion of the other. However, we’d do well to receive the assignment as given and wrestle with why the lectionary lists these moments as the biblical author does, as one.

The second half of this passage gives weight to the first in a few notable ways. First, Jesus comes closer to revealing his identity here than in any of the previous chapters in Matthew. Son of David was a common messianic reference, and if you turn back a page, you’ll see this is the title the crowds he encountered on the way into Jerusalem and the children in the temple courts have already given him. In this light, the question itself implies his Messianic identity. Secondly, the fact that Jesus answers their question impressively and they are dumbstruck by his speaks both to Jesus’ credibility and authority as a teacher. Soon these elders and teachers of the law will have him arrested and put him on trial. Matthew wants us to witness this before we get to that. The higher credibility and authority of Jesus in comparison to other teachers of the law is established here. Finally, the establishment of Jesus as the teacher of highest authority combined with the implication of his messiahship calls the reader back to his response regarding the greatest commandment, because it provides us with an important interpretive resource for life, scripture and the messiahship of Jesus.

With all of this in mind, we turn back to the first half of the lection, listening closely as Israel’s long-awaited messiah and highest authority on scripture offers us his perspective on the greatest commandment in the Hebrew Bible. The question posed was a common one, and Jesus’ response might have seemed all too common as well. At first. Of the 613 commandments, Jesus goes right to the heart of the law by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all of your soul and all of your mind.” This was the Shema, which was the Morning Prayer for every good Jew at least by the second century. N.T Wright remarked that Jesus’ answer was so traditional no one could challenge him on it and so deeply searching everyone else would be challenged by it. It is not the common offering of the Shema, but the innovation of pairing it with Leviticus 19:18 that continues to make Jesus’ response so deeply searching.

The Pharisees asked Jesus to provide the greatest commandment. It may be both helpful and relentlessly unsettling to see this as exactly what he did. In his communication of the great commandment, Matthew alone adds the second is “like” the first. Framed this way the second command is more than similar to or even next to the first. Instead, the two commands are presented here as parts of the same whole. Love thy neighbor is not a second command, but guidance for how to live out the first.

David Augsburger agrees that when presented this way we have not two commands, but one. Love of Neighbor is love of God and vice versa. They are inseparable. In his book, Dissident Discipleship, Augsburger describes this as Tripolar Spirituality, a three-dimensional approach to faith. It means that love of God, love of neighbor and love of self are all an intertwined part of the same whole. It means that the committed Christian must live a life that is upwardly, inwardly and outwardly directed. It means that we cannot claim that we love God and yet hate our brothers or sisters.

The preacher’s task then is to help our hearers imagine what it might mean for them. Most of them already affirm Jesus as Messiah. Have they searched the implication of a messiahship defined not by military conquests (like King David), but cruciform love? Most of them acknowledge Jesus as their highest authority in interpreting life and scripture. Are they allowing the tripolar spirituality of Jesus to influence their convictions on immigration, healthcare, war, peace, generosity, and poverty as well as estranged family members, difficult coworkers and ornery neighbors? Like the two halves of this lectionary text, we’d like to be able to pick and choose where we apply the authority of Jesus in our lives. However, it may be most helpful and most unsettling if everyone in the congregation this Sunday were forced to search out the places in ourselves where the authority of Jesus has yet to be applied. Be careful to be loving as you do.



Dr. Jason Edwards
Senior Pastor
Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO




Tags: Love, Greatest Commandment, Torah, Scripture, Messiah, Discipleship

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