It’s ironic the Pharisees ask Jesus a question right after He had silenced the Sadducees. The Sadducees are really a dead bunch of guys because they don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead. So after silencing them Jesus now has to face a scribe from the Pharisees who comes with a good question: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?
Jesus answers their question. The great commandment in the Law is LOVE. Love is the one thing the Pharisees lack. Love is the one thing that slips from our mind as well when it comes to the Law of God.
Had Jesus not given you the answer to the Pharisees’ question, how would you have answered Him? I ask this question every time I teach Luther’s Small Catechism to young and old: Summarize the Ten Commandments in one word. The answers I get are always interesting. They show what people are thinking concerning God’s holy Law. Perhaps the number one wrong answer is “obedience” or “obey”. That answer plays right into the Pharisees’ question.
Love in the way of the Pharisee is “do as I say and as I do”. Pay no attention to what the Scriptures actually say, just let me explain it to you. Then you do exactly as I tell you, perhaps go a little overboard on that doing, and maybe you’ll qualify for eternal life. Love is replaced by do. There is no need for love when you are busy doing everything, and more, that is necessary for salvation.
So we do. And we do. Then we do some more. There’s no time to love. There is only time to do. Doing is obedience. Make sure, while you’re obeying and doing, that you do a little bit more than the Pharisee does. Put some extra relish on that hot dog, so to speak. Forget your neighbor. Forget about God. Keep doing. Keep trying. One day you’ll get the hang of it, or you’ll die trying.
The Pharisees know nothing about love, especially love toward God and toward their neighbor. That is why Jesus answers their question. He is trying to refocus who they are and what they do. He’s tried many times over the course of the Gospels to get them to see that Messiah is right before their eyes. All their doing is about to end in Christ’s doing what He is sent to do. Yet they won’t believe it. It’s not as if they can’t believe it. They won’t believe it.
That leads to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees: What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? That’s another question that could have been asked to you along with summarizing the Law in one word. The Pharisees know that how they answer this question will tip their hand. If they say he is David’s son, as they do, Jesus comes right back with His response in today’s Gospel. If they say the Christ is David’s Lord, as they should, then they admit He is Messiah. The Pharisees are unwilling to admit that Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, Son of David, is also the very Son of God.
How would you answer the question? Jesus gives you some help by quoting King David’s words in Psalm 110: The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son? There’s the heart of the matter. Jesus Christ is David’s Son and David’s Lord. The Christ is both human and divine. Only He Who is human and divine can do what Messiah comes to do: save His people from tyranny.
For a Pharisee it is impossible to believe that the Christ suffers death and rises from the dead to atone for sins. That is foolishness. The Son of God would never stoop to become man. The Son of God would never allow Himself to go through agony, even to be forsaken by His Father. The enemy is Rome and the Gentiles. The objective is a heavenly kingdom on earth where everything is done just right. The good old days of the Old Testament need to be restored.
What the Pharisee forgets, and we often forget as well, is that what is concealed in the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. God has worked in time, using His chosen people, to prepare the world, Jew and Gentile, for the coming of the Christ, His only-begotten Son. God’s love for His creation becomes man, born of a woman, born under the Law, to fulfill the Law. Jesus’ perfect love, Jesus’ perfect obedience is credited to you. You are free. You live. You get to love both God and your neighbor.
Jesus has good news for the Pharisees and for you as well. All the “do” of the Pharisees, all their misunderstanding, adding, subtracting, and distorting of the Scriptures will not stop the Christ from the Father’s mandate of love. Our heavenly Father gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
In Christ, “do” becomes “done”. All is accomplished. Everything necessary for reconciling sinners to the Father is fulfilled. Jesus pays your debt in full in His blood and righteousness. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The Pharisees couldn’t believe it. By God’s grace you believe it. You are a child of God, washed, fed, and clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The long awaited peace between God and man is yours in Jesus. Believe it for His sake.