Pastor Dale E. Austin Matthew 22:34-46
Riddles come in all shapes and sizes. Some are relatively simple; others case be incredibly complex. Some can be solved quickly utilizing a small amount of common sense. Others may require a great deal of time, some detailed notes and a lot of frustration before we can solve them. Some riddles occur naturally and we are constantly challenged to find the answers. Others flow from our imaginations, usually in an attempt to stump our neighbor.
Jesus was often confronted with this latter type of riddle. As the Pharisees and their companions sought to discredit him, they would often come up with elaborate scenarios or seemingly paradoxical settings in their efforts to catch him in some heresy and thus prove that he was not who people claimed him to be. The question of the greatest commandment is an example of such an attempt. Obviously, it’s a trap. If Jesus were to choose one of God’s commandments as being superior to the rest, it would be tantamount to giving permission to everyone to violate all other commandments, the logic being, “They aren’t that important. As long as I never violate this one, I’ll be all right.”
The Pharisees should have learned by then that Jesus was not about to fall for such an obvious ploy. Confronted with this riddle, he responded in a way which was totally unexpected. Instead of saying something like, “Do not kill,” or “Remember to keep the Sabbath,” he went in a totally different direction and quoted the love commandments – love God, and love your neighbor, Then he pointed out that everything else is just an application or a reflection of those two core directives. Jesus was able to answer the Pharisees’ riddle in a way which caught them all off guard. In his response, they got more than they expected; a gem of wisdom which they could take away from this conversation. They couldn’t dispute his answer, because he was absolutely right – and they knew it.
Then Jesus turned the tables. He seemed to have had enough of the “cat and mouse” games, and it was time to put an end to them. So he posed a riddle of his own for his adversaries to answer. It’s a riddle which questions the nature and character of the Messiah. Is he the Son of David, and therefore purely human; or is he the Son of God, and somehow divine? In the minds of his opponents he couldn’t possibly be both, even though Jesus knew that was the correct answer. For the Pharisees , it had to be and “either/or”; there was no way that the answer could be “both/and”. Consequently there were unable to answer the question. Where Jesus had succeeded admirably, they failed miserably. Lest they get challenged by some similar question in the future, they decided that the more prudent course would be to simply cease and desist; they would no longer bother Jesus, at least not directly. It had taken a while, but they were finally wise enough to know when they were beaten.
For those who are astute enough to hear what Jesus is asking in this “riddle”, though, the realization is mind-blowing. The Messiah, promised descendent of David, is also God’s Son in some inexplicable way. In this Messiah, we get more than we expect. We find someone who was just as human as ourselves, so he understands our limitations and shortcomings. He knows our frustrations and fears. At the same time, he is the divine Son of God, the one who is able to heal, to strengthen, to feed and to do so much more, even when we can’t possible see such solutions to our dilemmas. In time we come to realizes that the is also the Savior of the world, the one whose sacrifice makes it possible for us to approach the throne of God directly, knowing that our sins have been forgiven. He is the one who gives us this direct access, because he is God and not just a mere human. It’s the greatest paradox of all time, which is why Jesus’ opponents couldn’t conceive of the answer. To them, it didn’t make sense.
And if we try to reason it out, it still doesn’t. It’s one of those great mysteries which we accept only in faith. Whose son is the Messiah? Is he simply a human being like the rest of us? Or is he somehow the divine Son of God waling among us?
The answer, of course, is both. He’s more than we might expect to find. Our tendency is to lean heavily toward the divine Son of God and forget that he was also just as human as we are. That’s unfortunate – because it removes him from our human experience. Or perhaps that what we want.
I wonder, sometimes , if we would fare any better than the Pharisees if Jesus were to confront us with this same riddle today. We would probably come down on the opposite side of the fence; whereas they preferred to think of the Messiah in purely human terms, we prefer to see him in the light of his deity. We claim to know the answer to Jesus’ riddle. . . . .but how much do we really believe it?