Saturday, October 21, 2017

Shamed by the Shema

The controversy narratives have continued in Matthew, but now are coming to a climax.  The Sadducess have been silenced, so the Pharisees try one more time to test Jesus, asking him a question which they believe might spark a dispute that they can win.  They are wrong.  To these religious leaders who begin each day with the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4f), Jesus quotes the Shema.  In Matthew 22:34-46, the gospel lesson appointed for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus silences his opponents.  They have nothing to say in reply.  All that is left now is for his enemies to plot Jesus' death.  They will not be reconciled.

(The following questions have been formulated to bring to the surface concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.  These questions are not meant to be exhaustive in themselves.  For a  more complete understanding of these concerns, as well as this genre of preaching, you may see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The Word, in this case Jesus, functions to silence his adversaries, thus a function of Law.  Whenever we need to be silenced by Jesus, we are being rebuked, and the function of the Word is to reveal to us our sin, i.e. our need for Jesus. 

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  Once again, as is common in these late chapters of Matthew, there is no word of Gospel, no word that shows us the love of God shown us in Christ.  We will need to look elsewhere for this Gospel word, perhaps in the First Lesson appointed for this day:  Jeremiah 31:31-34:  "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, says the Lord:  I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  Here is a rare opportunity:  We can identify with those who have been silenced by Jesus.  We can identify with those who attempt to test Jesus and cause him to stumble, who are instead caused to stumble.  We might want to ask, when have we been silenced by Jesus?

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  In one sense, the entire first half of this text is a call to obedience.  Love God. Love people.  There is no simpler call to obedience.  It is what we do in response to God's love for us in Christ. We love because God first loved us.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Without the Gospel present here, we have to use our imaginations to come up with a couplet.  Here are some ideas:  silenced/freed to testify; unlovable/ loved unconditionally.

6.  Exegetical work:  The extended article on love (agape) in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is very helpful in thinking about the love command in this text.  Here are a few highlights:   "[Jesus] demands love with an exclusiveness which means that all other commands lead up to it and all righteousness finds in it its norm.  For Jesus, too, love is a matter of will and action.  But he demands decision and readiness for God and for God alone in an unconditional manner which startles his hearers." (TDNT, Vol. I, p. 44)  "Jesus frees neighborly love once and for all from its restrictions to compatriots.  He concentrates it again on the helpless man..." (Ibid., p. 45)  Kittel also offers an insightful analysis of the term for neighbor (pleision):  "[Neighbor] carries with it the element of encounter..." "One cannot say in advance who the neighbor is, but that the course of life will make this plain enough."  (TDNT, Vol. VI, p. 317)  Augustine, in his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love, offers much wisdom:  "For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves." (Chapter CXVII).  "We love God now by faith, then we shall love Him through sight.  Now we love even our neighbor by faith; for we who are ourselves mortal know not the hearts of mortal men." (Chapter CXXI). 

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Jerome Bruce does an outstanding job of showing how Jesus 'strikes out the side' in this controversy with the Pharisees.  Jesus proves to be 'unhittable.'  Finally, however, the 'home run' that Jesus hits is one whereby even those who have 'struck out' are enabled to 'run the bases.'  Go to study to see the complete analysis - one that goes perfectly with this being World Series season!

Blessings on your proclamation!

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