Jesus’ intellectual smackdown.
by Danielle Shroyer
Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:34-46
For Sunday, October 23, 2011: Year A—Ordinary 30
Jesus is the master of responding to questions with another question. In this section of Matthew, he’s already two for two. But this third scenario shows a Jesus who’s ready to end this game once and for all with an intellectual smack down.
Turning the Tables
Of course we are not surprised to see Matthew showing us a story of Pharisees plotting to trick Jesus with a difficult question. But we may be a bit surprised at the question, which frankly seems like low-hanging fruit after that Sadducee’s zinger about spouses at the resurrection and the hardball political quandary about paying taxes to Caesar.
They may as well have asked Jesus to recite the Hebrew alphabet. Without breaking a sweat, he answers with the textbook Shema (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength”) and then throws in the “Golden Rule” for good measure. So far so good. But then Jesus does something rather unexpected. He lobs a riddle right back at them.
“So what do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” Jesus asks. And, following suit, the Pharisees respond with another textbook answer. “The son of David,” they say, ready for their gold star. And then like Columbo, it’s as if Jesus whirls around and says, “Just one more thing…how could David call the Messiah Lord if the Lord is David’s son?”
If the Pharisees are the Bible’s brown-nosing, teacher’s pet, condescending honor roll students, did Jesus just take the role of the fellow student who finally strikes back? Did Jesus just shut down the smart kids in class?
Quantum Physics of the Family Tree
It’s almost comical when Matthew tells us nobody knew how to answer the question, and after that they didn’t dare ask him anything further. They were probably staring into space trying to wrap their minds around things we pretend to know about like ideas about quantum dimensions and the Trinity. Apparently his intellectual smack down worked.
Still, it seems this should have been a question someone considered before. How was David supposed to be the ancestor of the Messiah while at the same time offering his allegiance to the Messiah as his Lord? Can you be both before something (in lineage and time) as well as after the same thing (in lineage and time)? Maybe we all should have seen that quagmire coming. Hmmmm.
The Hardest Question
Does Jesus here seem to revel (even more than usual) in pointing out the mysterious logic of faith?
Danielle Shroyer is the Pastor of Journey Church in Dallas, TX. She is the author of The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and blogs at www.danielleshroyer.com. Danielle lives with her husband, two children, and two wild and crazy dogs in Dallas.