Proper 25 • Matthew 22:34–46 • October 23, 2011
By Thomas Egger
At the Jerusalem temple (Mt 21:23), as the great feast approaches, a high-profile religious confrontation takes place. Jesus has entered the city amidst shouts of “Hosanna,” hailed by the throngs as the son of David (21:1–9). Now the religious leaders lock horns with Jesus, challenging his authority, attempting to trap him in his words, and interrogating him with loaded questions. The full panoply of experts and officials are involved: the chief priests and elders of the people (21:23), the Pharisees (21:45; 22:15, 34, 41), the Sadducees (21:23), and an expert in the law (νομικός, 22:35). The crowds listen in, wondering who speaks for true religion.
C. Talbert provides a helpful outline of Matthew 21:23–22:46,1 which focuses on Jesus’s authority:
(A) Jesus’ question (21:23-27)
(B) Three parables of judgment (21:28-22:14)Two sons (21:28-32)
Marriage Feast (22:1-14)
(B’) Three controversies (22:15-22:40)Taxes (22:15-22)
Great commandment (22:34-40)
(A’) Jesus’s question (22:41-46)
A careful reading of this section of Matthew will be important in preparing to preach on 22:34–46, a pericope which brings this series of confrontations to its climax. In particular, linking Talbert’s (A) and (A’) suggests that Jesus’s assertion of the “lordly” status of the Davidic Messiah has implications for the questions, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (21:23) Also, after the three parables of 21:28–22:14, parables of judgment and divine rejection aimed squarely at the religious leaders (21:45), Jesus’s interrogators in 21:15–22:40 have been unmasked. They do not stand or speak for the ways of God. Instead, they are the sons of God who have refused him due obedience, they are tenants in God’s vineyard who have not yielded to him its proper fruit, and they are the graciously invited guests to God’s (messianic! 22:2) banquet who have spurned his hospitality and forsaken their places.
Yet Matthew goes further in characterizing the religious leaders. Not only is their questioning of Jesus malicious (22:15), it is demonic. Just as Satan tempts (πειράζω) Jesus in the wilderness, so also the leaders publicly pepper Jesus with questions to “test” (= “tempt,” πειράζω) him, here in 22:35 and previously in 16:1; 19:3; 22:18. Jack Dean Kingsbury observes, “They are repeatedly putting him to the test in ways that, ironically, place them in the service of Satan, the fountainhead of all temptation.”2 Jesus resisted the devil by quoting the Scripture, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (4:7); here, Jesus implies that the one whom the leaders are testing with questions is not merely David’s son, but also David’s κύριος. In contrast to obedient Jesus, the leaders are putting the Lord to the test (see also 21:18!).
Verse 34: The Pharisees “gathering together” (συνάγω), here and again in v. 41, foreshadows the frequent repetition of συνάγω in Matthew 26–27, as the leaders gather, seeking to put Jesus to death. R.T. France and R. Gundry agree that this “echoes deliberately the plotting of the heathen against God’s anointed in Psalm 2:2.”3 Jesus has silenced (φιμόω) the Sadducees, just as the impertinent wedding guest was silenced in 22:12, by the end of this interchange, the Pharisees will be silenced as well.
Verse 35: On the importance of “to test him” (πειράζω), see above.
Verse 39: Jesus goes to the heart of the Law, focusing on love—for God and for neighbor. While love for God is the “greatest and first” commandment, love for neighbor is “like unto it” (ὁμοία αὐτῇ). This latter phrase indicates equal importance. Jesus’s reply stands as an enduring teaching regarding the heart and essence of God’s will for man. In light of the preceding judgment parables (21:28–22:14), it also functions as an implied rebuke of his opponents’ failure to love God. (Elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus rebukes the leaders’ failure to love their fellow man.) By contrast, Jesus himself will stand as the very embodiment and fulfillment of love. Kingsbury writes: “Jesus freely submits to suffering and death because he is, on the one hand, perfect in his devotion to God and, on the other hand, perfect in his service to humankind.”4
Verses 41–46: Here the tables turn decisively and with finality. It has been the religious leaders who have been cornering Jesus with questions, interrogating him (ἐπερωτάω). Now Jesus puts their public questioning to an end by asking a question of his own: “What do you think about the Christ?” Here Jesus challenges their shrunken framework of messianic expectation. The Messiah will not be a mere repristination of David’s political and military glory. The Messiah will be David’s lord, and his throne will be at the right hand of God himself. Jesus opens the path to this claim with the initial query, “Whose son is [the Christ]?” He does not return to that precise question. The Matthean context leads the reader to answer it for himself: the Christ is the Son of the living God (see 16:16, 20 and 26:63). The final verse (v. 46), along with the first verse of the pericope (v. 34), bracket this reading with the themes of questioning and silencing. No one now dares to ask further questions. Their plan to silence Jesus now turns murderous, as Jesus has predicted all along.
Sermon Theme: “What is True Religion?”
I. In true religion, we answer to God, not God to us.
A. Like the Pharisees, people—whether “religious” or not—often approach religion as their
personal quest for spirituality, their own discovery of God. We like to be the ones asking
B. In our text, the Pharisees find the tables turned, and the Lord is silencing and
interrogating them! God may have some questions for you….
II. In true religion, God calls us to radical love, not to self-righteous debate over rules.
III. In true religion, there is hope—even for love-failed sinners—in God’s Christ.
A. Jesus refused to test God, but humbly submitted to his Father’s will in all things.
B. Jesus alone fulfills God’s great command of love.
C. All this he has done for sinners . . . for you—to forgive you and to rescue you. (See also Matthew 21:31–32.)
D. The scope of Jesus’s throne and reign are greater than you can imagine.
1 C. Talbert, Matthew, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 250.
2 Jack Dean Kingsbury, Matthew as Story, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1988), 22. 3 R. T. France, Matthew (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1985), 319. 4 Kingsbury, Matthew as Story, 84.
3 R. T. France, Matthew (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1985), 319.
4 Kingsbury, Matthew as Story, 84.
david langdon October 13, 2011
Dear Sir or Madam: I’ve been struggling to write this Sermon (write down what occurs to me thinking & praying about the texts for proper 17). The scholarship of this commentary dazzles me. What clarity. Everything is in balance. It’s really good to see a disciplined scholar get the meaning of the text, the main themes highlighted, but at the same time humanize and personalize the text sufficiently so as to attract those of us of more modest ability. Thanks, Respectfully, D. Langdon (VA Chaplain/Prison Chaplain/Sunday Liturgist in various Churches)