November 2, 2014 - Matthew 22.34-46

“The Main Thing”

Matthew 22:34-46

November 2, 2014


34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?

45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.


Ladies and Gentlemen…it is like a title fight between The Pharisees and Jesus.


This episode shows just how Jewish the story of Jesus is. The Jews loved to dispute. They loved contradictions. And, they loved to argue with/about God. One of the great images of the Jewish faith, it is said, is that of a believer shaking a fist toward heaven.  It is also how the Jews have historically studied the Talmud, with passionate, intricate arguments.  “If two chimney sweeps come out of their chimneys, and one is black with dirt, while the other is clean, which one will go and wash?”


One thing we learn from this story in Matthew is that Jesus doesn't run from a confrontation. He faces his adversaries, hears their challenge, and provides a good and honest answer. We really shouldn't dare to challenge God, we might assume. But, God appears to be Jewish in that regard. God doesn't seem to mind a good question or a challenging argument. Jesus was up to the test and answered as well as anyone could.


It is a natural thing to want to challenge God, to ask demanding questions. But in the end, it is God who challenges us, puts our faith to the test. And it is God who gives us heart, soul, mind, neighbor, faith, and salvation.


So, perhaps arguing with God or putting God to the test is not so bad. Perhaps this is one way for our faith to grow. That wasn't the purpose the Pharisees had in mind, but they certainly discovered their place. They could not dispute with Jesus and win. When we dispute with God, we certainly cannot win, but we do learn the limits of logic, and we learn our place in the cosmos. God is the creator. We are the creatures. We hold some of the questions. God holds all of the answers. Isn't it right then to go to God with the hard questions and expect some answers?

Questioning God comes naturally, even to children. Here are a few priceless questions asked by inquisitive young believers.

"How did you know you were God?" - Charlene

"Dear God, Is it true that my father won't get in heaven if he uses his [golfing] words in the house?" - Anita

"Dear God, Instead of letting people die and haveing [sic] to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones you got now?" - Jane

"Dear God, Is reverend Coe a friend of yours or do you just know him through business?" - Donny

"Did you really mean do unto others as they do unto you, because if you did then I'm going to fix my brother." –Darla [1]


I used to play a lot of golf.  I even carried an 8 handicap.  I gave it up for a lot of reasons, but I could have given it up out of frustration, just from the sheer number of thoughts you have to juggle. Keep your head down.  Follow all the way through the ball.  Fire right side through the ball.  Keep left side strong through impact.  Swing inside to out.  Slide the clubhead back across the grass.  These are just some of the “swing thoughts” that I have used at one time or another in my golf game. A swing thought is that thought that you hold in your mind while you look at your golf ball and try to execute as you are playing golf.  It usually has something to do with what you are doing wrong in your swing, and helps you keep your swing intact.  You see, the golf swing may look fluid and smooth, but it is actually an incredibly complex series of movements, and all of them have to be placed together in perfect synchronization or it won’t work.  There are in fact a thousand things you must do right in order to hit a golf ball, but you can only hold one swing thought in your mind at a time, so you must practice constantly using different swing thoughts so that they become “muscle memory.”


The Pharisees would have made great golfers.  With all the different teachings techniques for golf, and all the different rules and regulations, with all the different mechanics that have to be gotten right, I know they would have made great golfers.  The Pharisees loved laws and regulations.  They had counted 613 commands in the law of Moses, and their job was to enforce them, and to constantly talk about them and debate them.  Jesus has been cleaning their clocks at the Temple lately, so they come up with another plan to trick him.  Peirazo – the verb for to “test.”  Only the Pharisees and Satan are the subject of this verb in Matthew.  It was a test, one designed to mock him.  The Pharisees wanted him to denounce the other commandments, to slip up, or something.  So, they ask him, which of the (613) commandments is the most important.


Curly’s “one thing” in City Slickers.  “Life will work out if you just get one thing right.”  “what’s the one thing?”  “That’s what you got to figure out.”


Key twist and point:  Jesus is asked for ONE commandment, but gives two.  Maybe it just seems that he gives two. The second is of equal importance as the first.  One cannot first love God, and then as a second task, love our neighbor. The reason is that the two are inseparable, as they are almost the same thing, but we perceive them to be distinctly independent from each other because we are inherently selfish.  Jesus cannot give the first without also giving the second.


Rich Mullin’s – “So many people say they need just the one thing; what they really mean is they need just one thing more;…Lord you’re my one thing.”  Our human nature is for ourselves to be our one thing, and the feeding of our own desires is the way we worship at the altar of our own selfishness.  When we fall into this trap, we are not able to escape on our own.


Religion consists in loving God. The verse which Jesus quotes is Deut.6:5.  That verse was part of the Shema, the basic and essential creed of Judaism, the sentence with which every Jewish service still opens, and the first text, which every Jewish child commits to memory.

(Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad).

 It means that to God we must give a total love, a love, which dominates our emotions, a love which directs our thoughts, and a love which is the dynamic of our actions.  All religion starts with the love, which is total commitment of life to God.[2]


It is only when we love God that man becomes lovable.  We often think of love a simply a “feeling” we have, or an emotion we experience.  Balderdash.  Such love is not a matter of feeling, which cannot be commanded in any case, but of commitment and action.  It is the farthest thing from mere sentimentality.  In the Hebrew it is called, hesed, or covenant love.  In the Greek we use the word agape, which describes the unconditional love of God. 


Such love is not a matter of a feeling (which cannot be commanded anyway) but a matter of commitment and action. 


There is an inseparability between the two commandments.  In 1 John 4:20, this thought is fully developed:  Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.[3]


The close connection between the two commandments keeps the church consistent.  It makes our liturgy consistent with our lives, it makes our confessions of faith and our words of worship congruous with our walk in the world.  In other words, all the stuff we do and say at church about God and our relationship to God can only mean something if we actually go into the world and love others.  If we don’t love our neighbor, then everything we do at church makes us Hypocrites, to put it mildly.  To put it bluntly, we profane God if we say we love God and yet do not love our neighbor.


Even in our religious life, we can find so many things, which we declare to be important.  We have programs, mission boards, associations, state conventions, national conventions, assemblies, convocations, foundations, doctrines, creeds, regulations, unions, fellowships, societies, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.  We have so much to distract us, so much to fight over it seems, that it becomes easy to lose sight of that which is the MOST important.  Love God, Love others.  It is that thought that will make all the rest of the stuff in our lives just fall into place.


The simplification does not lessen our obligations, but rather makes them more radical and comprehensive. 


Chester Molpus was a minister in South Carolina.  He was famous for his quote: “The church needs to keep the main thing the main thing.”  What is the main thing?  Love God and Love Others!


The golfer’s swing thought is supposed to do just that, make everything else fall into place.  I had a friend that I used to play golf with when I lived in SC.  His name was Billy Cassidy, and he had two daughters named Molly and Sarah.  I mentioned swing thoughts earlier; Billy Cassidy had a unique swing thought.  He had it written on his golf ball.  “Molly” on one side and “Sarah” on the other – his daughters.  Billy’s swing thought puts everything else into perspective because that is what really matters.  Love God, Love Others.  Everything else is secondary.  The answer to our greatest questions lie in these two thoughts:  Love God, Love Others!


We may ask; we may challenge God. We may struggle and we may wonder.  We might get confused with all the complexities of trying to live a “Christian” life.  We may dispute and try to trap God in blame. But in the end, we learn what the Pharisees learned in their confrontation with Jesus. It’s not that complicated because God is in charge. God holds all the cards and all the answers. Remember the words from Jesus Christ Superstar: "God, thy will is hard, but you hold every card."


God, of course, will always win the dispute, but that is what we seek and what we need. We do not need to be right. We need to be saved. Our own logic cannot accomplish this. Only God, who holds all the cards, holds the card of salvation. And God plays that card with a deft hand. God trumps our knowledge with wisdom too great for us. God plays out the hand of our lives and in the end, no matter how the hand goes round, he takes us to himself. He takes the trick. He brings us home.



[1] (Children's Letters to God, compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall, New York: Workman Publishing.)

[2] Barclay, Daily Study Bible, Matthew.

[3]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

  December 2017  
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