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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

How to Trick Jesus

2017-10-29 Mt 22 34-46 How to Trick Jesus

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 Love your neighbor as yourself

Matthew 22:34-46 Love God, love neighbor


Prayer of Confession

Loving God,

your servant Moses commanded us

to love you

and to love our neighbors.

We confess

we don't do either very well.

Our hearts chase many loves.

Our souls worship many idols.

Our minds are distracted by many things.

Our neighbors have yet to earn our love.

We embrace the sin that separates us from you.

We worship our feelings,  

and praise our importance.

Forgive us, Lord,

and may our neighbors forgive us also

for misplacing our love

and misdirecting our lives.

In Jesus' name. Amen.




We know Jesus. We know he's the Son of God. We know the apple don't fall far from the tree. We know this. We believe this. So to us, it's kind of amazing how so many of these bonehead Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Scribes, Priests and Lawyers spent so much time and energy trying to figure out how trick Jesus. I mean, after seven, eight, fifteen tries, you'd think they'd figure it out. He's smarter than you. You birdbrains are not going to bait him into saying, or doing, or tweeting something sinful.  

On the other hand, it might amaze the Pharisees and Friends to see how little people have changed over the years. Every day, we wake up, and we check the news, to see what someone who ought to know better, has said, or done, or tweeted, or posted a selfie of themselves committing.  

Forrest Gump was right. Stupid is as stupid does. And there is no end to all the ways we can do stupid. If we start to run short, don't worry; they're inventing new ways all the time. So maybe, Matthew shares story after story of people banging their heads into the brick wall of Jesus's wisdom – not to teach us how smart the Son of God is – but to remind us how persistently pinheaded sons and daughters of people can be.

And if this is so. If people haven't changed. If people who know better continue to keep doing worse. If this is true, it raises the question.  

How much time and energy do we spend, trying to trick Jesus?




Tricking Jesus.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

Which commandment is the greatest?

Now, if you or I hear someone say Commandment, what, immediately, do we think of? I think of THE Ten Commandments. Is that what you thought of? The Ten Commandments Moses brought down from the mountain. So, figuring out which Commandment is the greatest, may not be easy, but at least there's a limited set of choices.

Now, a lot of times, people assume that Commandment Number One of the Ten must be the most important.  

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Start there.

But by that logic, if Number One is the greatest, Number Ten might be more of a guideline than a rule. You remember Number Ten, don't you? No fair peeking. That's cheating. And there's a commandment about that, too.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his....

We'll stop there. You get the idea.

Coveting is bad. Thou shalt not do it. But, in context, it's not AS bad as having other gods before God and the intervening Eight.

So when you think of it that way, you might be a far better person than you think. Or your neighbors think. You might have a huge collection of UT bling, but at least you don't worship Nick Saban, like your neighbor from Alabama does.

Relatively speaking, you're OK. Ten Commandments. You're only breaking one, maybe two. That's a B.

If we really set our minds to it, we can convince ourselves. We've found a way to trick Jesus. Or at least a way to earn a little lenience from our Eternal Judge.


But. Hold on. This is assuming God ranks the Commandments. This is also assuming there are only ten.

The ancient Jewish scholars, the kind of people who worked so hard to trick Jesus, looked at the Bible. They got out their magnifying glasses. They read the fine print. They realized there were way more than Ten Commandments. They counted hundreds. Hundreds upon hundreds. The great rabbi Maimonides counted 613. Six hundred and thirteen holy commandments from God Almighty. Great. Just when you start to think you're doing alright. There's always another commandment. And they're all from God. How in the world, could anyone, figure out which one, was the Greatest?  

This was why they thought, they had finally found out, how to trick Jesus.




The Lectionary has us reading the first half of this passage, where the Pharisees try to trick Jesus. In my opinion, that's the most important part, because Jesus gives the answer about love – loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself. So because I thought that part was so important, I almost decided to leave out the second half. The second half is where Jesus puts a puzzle to the Pharisees, and effectively shuts them up. This is the part where:

Jesus asked them this question: "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?"

And then he goes on to give a mind-boggling answer that proves (a) Jesus really knows his Bible, and (b) he's way, way smarter than anybody. It's a horribly confusing answer that folds back on itself a couple of ways and will either give you a headache or gain you a Ph.D. Or both.

In Part One, Jesus already gives a life-changing, simple answer to an impossible question. Love God, love your neighbor. Why go on in Part Two to rub the numbskulls' noses in their own ignorance? Why does Matthew even bother including the second half of the story?

I think, that it goes to show, I think, that it goes back to the question of ranking. I think it goes back to the abundance of sin and human stupidity. I think what Matthew is saying here with these two halves is this: You can use the Bible, you can use the Commandments, you can use your faith and your heart, your soul, and your mind - you can use them to love (love God, love your neighbor) – OR – you can use them to win. Win arguments. Win status. Win a sense of superiority. Win supremacy over people who don't know their Bible as well as you do. Win supremacy over people who don't have the same pedigree you do, who don't believe as fervently as you do, who don't rightly say No to sin and Yes to all 613 commandments as righteously as you do.

You can use the Bible to trick. You can. You can use the Bible to trick yourself - into believing you're Number One. Into believing you're the winner. Or you can use the Bible as a cover to cover lesson in how to love. Love equally. Love intelligently. Love selflessly.

Notice how Jesus's Greatest Commandments level the playing field. Level it to the point where there's no playing around. Love God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength - love God to the point where there's no you apart from God. And love your neighbor as if she or he is you, as if there's no you apart from them.

If you do that, Jesus is saying, if you take care of those commandments, the other 611 will fall into place. That's the God's-honest truth. No fooling.




Jesus is smart. Jesus is so smart. He knows us. We can't pull anything over on him. That doesn't mean we won't try. Or don't try. That doesn't mean we don't try to convince him into seeing things the way we see them. That doesn't mean we won't try to trick him into admitting he made a mistake in his choice of great commandments. And we will try. And we do try.  

Jesus knew this. Jesus knows this. And yet – and yet he chose, and yet he chooses, to love us with all his heart, all his mind, all his body, and all his life. Jesus chooses to love us even though we're not ranked all that high on the scale of humanity. Even though, every now and then, we do things that are oh-so boneheaded, oh-so tragically wrong.

Jesus loves us in spite of ourselves. And he commands us, commands us, to love other stupid people as ourselves. And he commands us to love God, as if apart from God there is no us.

"On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

And Jesus.

And us.