Summary: Like the Jewish people, there are many "laws" that govern our lives. But the one law that reveals the true nature of God and follows the way of the Messiah is the greatest law of all, even though it is also an extreme challenge.
The big news out of England these days is that Prince William and his wife, Kate, are expecting another child. Currently, Prince William is second in line to the throne, behind his father, Charles. Third in line is William and Kate’s first son, George. And the child-to-come will be fourth in line to the throne. As you surely well know, in a monarchy system, your standing is greater the closer you are to the throne. So Queen Elizabeth currently holds the throne, Prince Charles ranks second above William and George, William is third below Charles but ahead of George, and so on. These positions represent relative power, so it would be very unusual for Charles, for example, to revere William as his superior. It should be the other way around! Which is exactly what Jesus is getting at when he turns the tables on the Pharisees and finally asks them the question you heard a few moments ago, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”
On the surface, Jesus’ question seems very basic. Every faithful Jew knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Messiah will come from the lineage of David, and so he will be David’s son. And that’s exactly what the Pharisees say. I imagine at this point they are starting to feel a little proud as they think to themselves, “We had some pretty tricky questions for Jesus, and he asks us something so simple?!?” But Jesus isn’t done yet. He extends his question further as he quotes from Psalm 110, a Psalm written by David himself. “Then how is it that David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, called him Lord when he said, The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right side until I turn your enemies into your footstool’? If David calls him Lord, how can he be David’s son?”
The Pharisees were operating according to the same assumptions as we do about how a monarchy works. No King would defer to his son as Lord in such a system, and so the Pharisees are stumped. We, of course, with the hindsight of Jesus death and resurrection, know the answer to his question. The Messiah, though a descendent of the line of David, is the Lord of all; all heaven and earth and everything in God’s creation. David knows that this descendent, the Messiah to come, is greater than he, and so it is that he calls him Lord. But the Pharisees don’t see that, they don’t yet understand. They knew Jesus was inferring that he was the Messiah, but this Messiah wasn’t doing what David’s son was expected to do. King David’s reign was revered in Jewish history because he united the Northern and Southern kingdoms, he ushered in a time of peace, prosperity, and power, and he laid the spiritual groundwork for the building of the Temple. As a result, the Jewish people had come to believe that the Messiah would be such a ruler; one who would overcome Roman oppression, and usher in peace, prosperity, and power. They expected a monarch, a military and political King who would save them from their woes.
But Christ was not that, far from it, and he has just told the Pharisees as much. I suppose it’s really no wonder they were stumped. In one of the best known of his teachings, Christ unveils the purpose of the Messiah, and the true nature of God. And it turns out, God is not a militaristic power-monger. We serve, says Jesus, a God of love, and love is the only thing that God has wanted from his people from the very beginning.
For thousands of years, generation upon generation, the Israelites followed the law of Moses; a set of some 613 laws by which they were to lead their lives. All these laws were considered equal, no one law was to be any more important than any other law, though that often happened anyway. So it is that the Pharisees decide one more time to try and trick Jesus into revealing that he is actually a false prophet. They send in an expert of the law with the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” I suppose he expected Jesus to say that all the commandments are equal, but that was not what Jesus did. You heard Christ’s answer, perhaps you know it by heart, all Jewish people in Jesus’ day would have recognized what was called the Shema, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.” But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells the legal expert that there is a second commandment like the first, by which Jesus means that it is equally important to the first. “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Then, as if to confirm the Pharisees’ belief that all commandments are equal, Christ concludes by saying, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” In other words, all of Jewish teaching, did you hear that, ALL of Jewish teaching is wrapped up in these words: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind…[and] you must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”