We are constantly discerning in our private and public lives what it is that God requires of us. With so many demands on our time and attention, we can get lost in the options, incapacitated. Or we might find the quandaries to be a fine excuse for complacency.
Jesus’ clarity cuts through our stagnant directions, and Stephen Kolderup’s assessment of the readings for this day steer us toward what we might call the plumb line, or the Ground Zero, of Jesus’ way as we consider our tasks at this annual time of Reformation celebration.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Jesus' answer about the law is foundational to any attempt to reform the church. The movement around the sixteenth century was primarily a clearing of debris that obscured the love of God and love of neighbor. One of the watchwords in training for the LOGOS after-school program was “keeping the main thing the main thing.” We can build up such a complicated structure of programs and customs and procedures, some of which do little to follow the will of God. Once I saw an agenda planner for church meetings that asked, “How will what we decide here affect the poor?”
Keeping Kolderup’s admonitions and slogans in mind, these readings can help clear our own debris out of the way as we seek to preach the two great commandments Jesus’ lived.
The religious leaders hope to catch Jesus off-guard and put him down. Instead, Jesus clarifies what the commandments demand and catches the leaders in a puzzle by setting the Messiah beyond all understanding.
The interchange between Jesus and the religious leaders ends with his question to them about the Messiah. We may not appreciate the scriptural ploy that Jesus used to trap the Pharisees in their answer about David. Many of us grew up being suspicious of so-called proof texting and this at first feels like Jesus out-dueling the players at their own game. However, Jesus was just as serious in his discussion of scripture as were the Pharisees. For all of them it was worth delving into the word of God and discussing the matter at hand in light of the study. Classic Jewish writings are full of lively discussion aimed at being faithful from day to day.
Sometimes these discussions reopened matters thought to be decided and closed. One such topic was the Messiah's identity as the son of David. While this could be accepted as true, Jesus was proposing that there was more truth about the Messiah. Jesus' use of Psalm 110:1 [in vs. 44] invites his debaters to step outside that box and consider the Messiah to be even greater. That greatness would not be an extension of David's military and political achievements.
As Jesus would demonstrate, the Messiah would be revealed in rejection, suffering, and death. On many days, we stand with the Pharisees, stuck inside the box of Messianic expectations that avoid the cross. The last question is still waiting for an answer—from us.
– Stephen C. Kolderup
While not every preacher will choose to connect the Sunday readings to the coming week's anniversary of the protest of Martin Luther [the Reformation], we have a reading that closes out the remarkable life of Moses and gives us opportunity to review his leadership in the life of God's people. He is the first of the great prophets in Israel's tradition and Matthew's Gospel evokes the memory of Moses in its structure and in his teaching.
If this is indeed going to be a Sunday where other leaders in the faith are celebrated, Moses is an excellent starting place. If the Reformation was about leaders who sought to focus on what is central in God's salvation, Moses can be honored as one who most intimately lived the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Their returning to the center of the faith was tied to his continuing instruction and intercession.
– Stephen C. Kolderup is a pastor serving South Jacksonville Presbyterian Church in Florida.
We may want to preach today about the difference between law and gospel. The religious leaders hope Jesus will trip up over the law. Instead, he speaks to them of love. Reform should move us as people of faith toward greater love – for God and neighbor.
Augustine taught that the goal of any sermon ought to be to increase the hearer’s love of God and love of neighbor.
Homily Service 41, no. 4 (21 July 2008): 90-99.