Last Sunday in the Gospel reading from Matthew chapter twenty-two Jesus was asked a question about paying taxes.
The politics around the question made it a tricky question to answer.
The question, of course, was meant to trap Jesus.
But Jesus sees through their trap and he answers in a way that avoids offending the religious leaders and his answer avoids offending the emperor.
In the end we are all left pondering a question ourselves… what belongs to God and what belongs to the government?
Then later, on the same day, the Sadducees try to trap Jesus and they ask him a question about the resurrection.
Jesus again silences his accusers by stating that God is God of the living and not of the dead.
Finally, we come up to today’s Gospel reading and see Jesus being questioned one last time.
So, again in chapter twenty-two of Matthew Jesus is being questioned again and again and again.
If you have time later today read through the whole chapter of twenty-two in Matthew.
It is so interesting how Jesus’ accusers keep coming at him but Jesus has a perfect response every time.
And not only that but with his response comes an important teaching.
Notice too how the chapter begins with a person being questioned.
Chapter twenty-two begins with the wedding parable.
In the parable a man comes to the wedding without having on the appropriate wedding garment.
He is questioned for why he is not wearing the wedding garment.
The man has no answer.
Jesus unlike this man, who has no answer to the question that was asked of him, has an answer every single time he is questioned in this chapter.
The contrast here is stunning.
Jesus is the one who wears the robe of righteousness and truth.
He has the answers and the teachings that we need so that we too can put on the wedding garment which is to put on Christ.
Now we have the context for today’s Bible reading and let’s take a closer look at that last question the people ask Jesus.
This time it is the Pharisees, these Jewish religious teachers, who try one more time to trap Jesus.
A lawyer, who is an expert in Jewish law and Torah, asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest.
Jesus quotes from the Torah, the Torah being the first five books of the Bible.
He first quotes from Deuteronomy chapter six verse five:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”
Now in Matthew the word strength is changed to mind.
An interesting thing to note here. Pay attention to this change.
And then Jesus quotes from the book of Leviticus chapter nineteen verse eighteen which reads:
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus passes the test.
Like a good Jewish rabbi Jesus uses the Torah to answer this last question.
Jesus knows the Torah, the writings of the Prophets, and the whole of Jewish law.
Jesus knows the Old Testament and often uses the Old Testament in his teachings.
That is why it is so important for us to continue to study the Old Testament because by doing so it helps us to better understand Jesus’ parables and teachings.
In this case Jesus quotes from the Torah.
By doing so he makes the point that these two commandments are the greatest.
The first commandment:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all of your mind.”
In the Bible the heart is the place where our emotions, our thoughts, and our free will, the ability to choose the life we desire, is placed.
The soul is that which gives our bodies life.
Think here about God breathing into the first human being in the book of Genesis.
The soul also is connected with our feelings and our consciousness.
Lastly, the mind has to do with thinking or on understanding.
What is interesting here is that in Deuteronomy the word strength is used instead of mind.
Strength is connected with power but mind is connected with thinking.
We might put the two together here with the understanding that all of our power and all of our thinking is to be used to glorify God and to love God.
Secondly, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
What is hateful to you do not do that to a neighbor.
In the context of Leviticus which Jesus is quoting from here neighbor refers to not only those near you but to those who are poor and those who are in need of love.
This commandment is also a call for us to forgive and to seek forgiveness.
In this commandment we seek to not only to be understood but to understand.
“As you seek to be understood seek to understand your neighbor.”
Really try to listen and to understand where your neighbor is coming from.
One of the greatest skills you can develop over a lifetime is the skill of listening.
Active, engaged listening that seeks to understand a neighbor.
I might even go as far as saying this that this one thing of true listening and hearing will do more for you in loving your neighbors then many other things that we can do.
In the book, The Lost Art of Listening.
The author, Michael Nichols writes:
“The gift of our understanding makes others feel loved. Our ability to listen and to listen well, creates goodwill that then comes back to us.”
…goodwill that comes back to us.
Love the Lord, love your neighbor -the Torah and its commandments rest on these two.
After this last question Jesus then turns the tables with a question of his own on who the Messiah is.
And so, people of God, we too are left with a very final and lasting question.
“Who is Jesus to me?”
For us we believe Jesus is the Messiah.
He is the chosen one.
He is the son promised to Abraham, through whom the nations will be blessed.
To be blessed is to receive God’s divine favor which includes all the good things that God gives to us -love, grace, peace, joy, forgiveness.
Through Jesus we are blessed.
We are blessed in order to bless God and our neighbors.
Those who have come to question and to test Jesus are left speechless.
The testing has come to an end and everyone is left with a final thought.
This man, whose name is Jesus, he is the Messiah and we are to listen to him and we are to love him.