Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
In our Gospel reading, we see a conversation begin that the fathers tell us never should have happened in the first place. Everyone had been put to silence by the words he had replied to the Sadducees, but the Pharisees chose to question him further. This is the tendency of human nature. We always want to have the last word.
What was their motive in asking this question? St. Cyril of Alexandria tells us that it was one of hypocrisy. They desired to find a pretense to make an accusation against Christ rather than to learn something of the law and be benefited by the response.
Jesus, however, reveals the evil that they were doing. They were hoping that he would answer in such a way that would declare that He had authority over the law. (We remember back in chapter 21 that this conversation began as a question of where Jesus got His authority). Instead of answering in this manner, Jesus’ answer pertains to the purpose of the law.
He teaches in His answer that we don’t measure out our devotion by loving God in part and clinging in part to the concerns of this world. Our approach to life is to love. First God with all our being and second to love our neighbours as ourselves. St. Theophylact of Ochrid tells us that these two commandments keep us from falling into unholy doctrines.
We must love God; so that we do not lead a corrupt life, we must love our neighbour. For he who loves his neighbour fulfills all the commandments, and he who fulfills all the commandments, loves God. So, by means of each these two commandments are welded together and united, containing within themselves all the other commandments.1
St. Cyril of Alexandria also testifies of this saying,
For the person who is grounded in the love of God clearly also loves his neighbour in all things himself. The kind of person who fulfills these two commandments experiences all the commandments.2
Our God has called us to love everyone without qualification. This is the sum of the law and the prophets. Origen asks how this is so? Since the law and the prophets contains laws on leprosy, ceremonial procedures and other varied things. The prophets deal with visions and the destruction of Jerusalem and other historical points? He answers,
It seems to me that the answer is something like this. He who fulfills all that is written concerning the love of God and neighbour is worthy to receive the greatest thanks from God.3
St. John Chrysostom adds that to love one’s neighbour is how we keep all the commandments. When we look at all the laws, prophecies, and histories of the 1st Testament, we see the working out of the love of God. Whether it is God loving the world or man responding to that love, or man refusing the love of God. We have both an example of how love works and what happens when love is rejected. The central theme of all those stories is that man is to love God and his neighbour, and this is what pleases God.
I think that I have mentioned in the past, but it is good to repeat. Neighbour refers to all of mankind and not just our friends. It refers to our enemies as well as those who are easy to get along with. We must remember the story of the Good Samaritan and that he was merciful and showed compassion to the one who was considered an enemy, just as Christ was merciful and compassionate to us when we were His enemies.
After answering this inquiry into the law, Jesus turns and asks a question. This question is not a challenge to the authority of the Pharisees, but rather a means to teach them in any way that He can. It is returning good for the malice or evil of the questions that had just been asked. Furthermore, we must also remember the crowd is mixed. He asks a question first, to try and teach those who are questioning His authority. Second, He is asking a question to further teach those who desire to be taught and questioned. He is boldly setting Himself against the false teaching of the Devil on one hand and on the other is giving instruction to those who wish to learn of Him.
St. John Chrysostom tells us that Christ is taking a quiet approach after all these signs had been manifested through His ministry and after all these questions had been asked and answered to lead them to the point of confessing that He is God. Jesus’ response to all these questions and inquiries was to ask a question that would open the door to inquire for the proof of who He was, rather than forcing them to accept who He was.
Christ’s hope in this discussion with both the Pharisees and the Sadducees was that they would respond in a fitting manner. The point of questions is not to trip up others in their words or to look for a way that we can accuse them but rather so that truth and knowledge can learned.
Even in their presumptuous questions, the fathers recognise that these questions were done from ignorance. They were tempting Jesus believing Him to be a mere man. They would never have tempted or tested him if they had understood or believed that He was God.
In the interest of bringing them to where they could accept the truth, He could not simply say that He was the Son of God. He needed to break it to them gently so that they could grasp it. We see this same principle in our education and schooling. When we were learning to read, we were taught simple one syllable words, with simple three- or four-word sentences. We were not taught four or five syllable words with complex sentences until the groundwork was put in place and we could understand this higher level of understanding.
The truth of who He was, could not be silenced so He needed to convey it to them.
And it was for this reason that he propounded this ingenious question to them, in order that while he was silent his question itself might show them that He was not a man but God.4
Just because the complexities of a truth cannot be conveyed to everyone, it does not mean we should not share the simple summary truth. For e.g. a simple summary truth that we can share with those who are young or outside of the faith is that God is Trinity. The complexities of that truth will take a lifetime if not eternity to comprehend.
Notice also that he asks this question submissively. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the authorities in Israel. He does not wish to challenge their authority, but rather to proclaim who He is. The truth to be gleaned from this question is that Christ is both David’s son and David’s Lord. How can this be? St. Augustin explains,
Thus, you have heard that Christ is both David’s Son and David’s Lord: David’s Lord always, David’s Son in time. David’s Lord, born of the substance of His Father. David’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us hold fast both. The one will be our eternal habitation; the other is our deliverance from our present exile.5
In the Nicene Creed each week these are some of the truths that we declare and affirm that Jesus is both God and Man. Furthermore, the fact that it is the Father putting the enemies under the footstool of Christ does not denote weakness or inability in Christ’s nature. Rather it teaches us the union of His nature with the Father.
After all of this, having been confounded in their questions, the Pharisees and Sadducees asked nothing further. St. Jerome asks what they did instead. The only thing that was left outside of acknowledging who Christ was to turn him over to the custody of the Roman authorities.
From this we learn that the faults of the jealous are indeed able to be overcome but are difficult to be put to rest.6
People can be convinced of the truth, but if they don’t want it, they will still reject it. St. Ignatius has said that our work in Christianity is not in persuasion. It has to be the Holy Spirit that will convince men of the truth. I read when I was younger, I think it was probably Tozer that if someone can be argued into Christianity, then they can be argued out as well.
As we have taken a look at this passage, let us determine to ask questions in order to learn and to be benefitted by the response.
Second, we must love. First, we must love God with all our being and second, we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. It is through living in this life of love that we are kept from falling into wrong doctrines.
Third, let us always be eager to learn more of the Lord, like the silent hearers in this passage and not be stubborn in our hearts like the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
Fourth, let us be gentle and compassionate with those who are seeking a chance of offence against us. We must follow Christ’s example of explaining the truth of the Gospel in an understandable way.
Fifth, as we have already done this morning, let us affirm the truth of who Christ is through the Creed often.
Sixth, we must always be submissive to the authorities over us no matter how much disdain that they have towards us. We must remember to give them the honour that is due them.
Seventh, let us leave people to be convinced by the Holy Spirit rather than to be forced by our arguments.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
4 Thomas C. Oden and Manlio Simonetti, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament Ib (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 160
5 Ibid, 161