Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost | Matthew 22:34 – 46 | Lectionary Project
Silly God Tricks
The team wearing Sadducee T-shirts (“Gone is Gone” with a silk screen likeness of James Dean — the irony eluded them) had already embarrassed themselves. They had put their heads together and come up with what they thought was a real resurrection conundrum. If all of this life after death stuff was real, there must be practical ramifications, right? A woman marries seven men in her lifetime, so who gets her in the hereafter?
Pretty slick, they had thought. Riddle us that one, Jesus. Let’s hear some brilliant carpenter theology now.
And they did, of course. Jesus told them just how wrong they were, and Peter made the sound of an airplane crashing, complete with hand motions and explosions at the end. The disciples were all wearing “We’re with Him” T-shirts, robes pulled open at the chest so that everyone could see.
Now it was time for Team Pharisee to have their turn. They all had on new Leviticus robes, not the cheap knockoffs with the shellfish rules printed under the arm where no one could read them, but real brand name robes from Fine Print Finery in the Temple Mall. One of them was carrying a Moses plush toy—pull the string and hear a different law each time. It was only for marketing purposes though. None of them were still playing with Moses dolls, not really.
“What is the greatest commandment?” the Pharisees asked. That was their big gun, the trick question to end all trick questions: neat and simple and oh so dangerous. The fellow carrying the Moses doll pulled the string just for fun. It cranked up and a tiny Charlton Heston voice read off the rule about not eating rock badgers. Peter was a little side-tracked, wondering how big rock badgers grew to be, but Philip shushed him.
In the silence afterward, Jesus gave them their answer. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” he said. Then he added the second greatest commandment for bonus points. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Pharisees knew that they were in trouble. They didn’t look as bad as the Sadducees, but Jesus had given the best answer anyone had ever heard to the Great Commandment Riddle. Most folk just wandered off and tried to sort out the ten commandments, but they always had a hard time picking out the best one. Some of the Pharisees began muttering that they should have worn Deuteronomy robes instead of their Leviticus ones.
Then Jesus announced that it was his turn to ask a question. It was a doozy. He read Psalm 110, then he asked, “If the Messiah is David’s son, why does David call him Lord?” It was the chicken-and-egg problem with a becoming-your-own-grandpa thrown in. The Pharisees were plainly stumped, and Peter didn’t even understand the question. John had to lean over and whisper that it was sort of a science fiction time travel thing, like on Doctor Who. Peter loved that show, but he didn’t really get how the characters could be in the future in one episode and travel to the past in the next one.
None of them really understood the riddle. Even the disciples didn’t grasp it. The point was not to figure out the answer but to realize who was asking the question. This was God in human form, if Christianity has gotten anything right at all. Nobody grasped that this person sitting among them, like one of them, was also God who was not like any of them. This was God who was both inside of time and outside of it, within our reality and beyond it, the one who stands at the beginning and at the the end (and everywhere in between) at the same moment, because for God there are no moments. All of the moments are for God, and none of them.
We think that time is like sand falling through the glass, and so for us it is. To God, how do we know what time is like? Perhaps it is a flash of light, or an endless sea, or eternities resting between the beats of our hearts.
They had no answer for Jesus because the Messiah they expected was the one they had created in their own image. That God was small and predictable. The real God is sometimes small and predictable, but also large and wild, unbound, unknowable, except in whatever forms and times and ways that God presents God to us. Like the Pharisees and David and Job before us, we have no answer for God’s riddles.
Like the disciples, we are invited to hear the questions anyway. It is not our answers that matter; it is knowing who places the questions in our hearts.