Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Matthew 22:34-46 (The Message)
The Most Important Command

34When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36"Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?"
37Jesus said, ""Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' 38This is the most important, the first on any list. 39But there is a second to set alongside it: "Love others as well as you love yourself.' 40These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them."

David's Son and Master 41As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: 42"What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They said, "David's son."
43Jesus replied, "Well, if the Christ is David's son, how do you explain that David, under inspiration, named Christ his "Master'?

44God said to my Master,
"Sit here at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool."

45"Now if David calls him "Master,' how can he at the same time be his son?"
46That stumped them, literalists that they were. Unwilling to risk losing face again in one of these public verbal exchanges, they quit asking questions for good.


It looks as though though the religious leaders are finally going to achieve what they have so desperately wanted to accomplish- to trap Jesus with words and send him down the road packing.

They confront Jesus with yet another litmus test to see where Jesus stands. But being rhetorical master that he is, Jesus skillfully dodges the religious leaders and even manages to rhetort with amazing words of truth.

This story makes me think of the litmus tests that some of our religious leaders in the church like to have in place to judge who is in and who is out. The arguments and rhetoric that comes from the religious right and left is nothing more than devisive and destructive to God's plans for an expansive Kingdom of Love. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for healthy discussion and conversation about the issues that we struggle around, but at the end of the day we still all come to the same table and receive eucharist from The Host.

So where does this leave us as a community divided by theology, doctrine, hot button faith issues?

3God tested us thoroughly to make sure we were qualified to be trusted with this Message. 4Be assured that when we speak to you we're not after crowd approval--only God approval. Since we've been put through that battery of tests, you're guaranteed that both we and the Message are free of error, mixed motives, or hidden agendas. 5We never used words to butter you up. No one knows that better than you. And God knows we never used words as a smoke screen to take advantage of you.
6Even though we had some standing as Christ's apostles, we never threw our weight around or tried to come across as important, with you or anyone else. 7We weren't aloof with you. We took you just as you were. We were never patronizing, never condescending, but we cared for you the way a mother cares for her children. 8We loved you dearly. Not content to just pass on the Message, we wanted to give you our hearts. And we did. 1 Thessalonians 2: 3-8


Paul writes that the good news of God is free of error and hidden agendas (that includes our liberal/conservative agendas that we tend to read into scripture) Words of scripture are never to be used as a weapon or litmus test but as a spirit breathed living document that guides the people of God. And we live together in a community that cares for one another in the same way that a mother cares for her children. What a practice for the children of God to take on.

(this article can also be found at Radical Preaching)



Scott said...

Yet love proves to be the greatest risk. It is so much easier to embrace division and separation. I appreciate how you point out that both sides of the American ideological battle do the same thing.

It is amazing how much angst and consternation the path of peaceful flight arouses.

Thanks for this excellent reflection Jonathan.

Grace and Peace,

St.Phransus said...

thanks scott.

Craig Moore said...

Jonathon, I agree with much of what you have written about everyone being included in the life of the church, and in a practical way have always sought to treat others who come into my church as such. I do believe that it is the responsibility of God to separate the wheat and tares. I have never saw my role as pastor being the "church sheriff" or "God's law enforcement." I do believe that as a teacher and preacher it is my duty to impart Biblical information to the church and let them decide how they will respond. What place, if any do you see for a pastor to preach or teach on sin and the need for repentance? In Romans, Paul spends a good bit of the first 3 chapters building the case that people are sinners in need of grace. Also, what is a "crazy pilgrimage?"

jason said...


i enjoyed the article – the passage from Matthew is my favorite because it seems to me that Jesus boiled down the entire tradition that the religious leaders were “experts” to two commandments – i bet the Pharisees got what Jesus was saying b/c they knew the Shema (Deut 6)

loving God and loving others is something every Christian can remember and use as a basis for personal ethics

i guess my question is why do not all Christian leaders/teachers use this as the primary hermeneutical referent in which to base all exposition, proclamation or ministry?

i know that over-simplifies what we have to do as church leaders – but somehow the pendulum has swung way too far to being over-complicated – how far can you walk on the Sabbath or does your ox have to stay in the ditch until after the Sabbath? – these are the things many in the church concerning themselves with these days – Sabbath rules seem ridiculous today as I am sure many off our “theological battles” will seem in the future

Tony said...

"...a spirit breathed living document that guides the people of God."

Do you mind if I use this phrase?

(I'll give you credit if you want.)

John said...

Some litmus tests are silly. But others are more core and foundational. If we remove them all, then we must conclude that Paul, who argued repeatedly against doctrinal error, was unChristlike.

Scott said...

Litmus tests would be anachronistic, and are thoroughly modern devices.

It seems that instead what Paul is working towards is an understanding of the church as the Body of Christ, a collection of forgiven and baptized sinners made into one body who participate in the life of Christ. It is not that sin is just forgotten, it is forgiven and renarrated in the cross and resurrection of Christ. Thus, sinners are converted, not because of their willing themselves to be better Christians but by being addressed by the love of God, receiving the free gift of grace, and responding with doxological praise of God. Thus, they stop sinning because of the ir love of God and desire to be a part of His body, the church.

To me, this is the beauty and majesty of His salvation that moves us beyond the litmus tests of modernity and the incommensurability of the current liberal/conservative ideologies that have so captured our moral and ecclesial vision.

Grace and Peace,

Michael said...

Very well said, Jonathan.