The Law And The Prophets Hanging On The Tree
October 14, 2017
Verse: Matthew 22:37–40
Christ Lutheran Church
October 15, 2017
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
The Law And The Prophets Hanging On The Tree
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question in order to accuse him. "Teacher! which commandment of the Law is the greatest? Jesus answered him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great, and first command! The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself! On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.'" Matthew 22:37-40
Let us recall again today that Jesus is the subject of all Scripture. Let us remember, too, that when we say this, that we are not talking about Jesus as an abstract idea, or a five letter word. But about Christ crucified and raised again for us men and for our salvation. But even that isn’t the whole story until we add that we mean Jesus into whose death and resurrection we are baptized. Jesus who speaks in the church each Sunday. Jesus who leads us in liturgy to the Father. Jesus with whom we have Holy Communion on the First Day of every week. Jesus who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. That will be earth’s final and finest day.
Why must we be so specific? Because the default understanding of today’s gospel is that we are the subject of it. That we are the ones who are to love God with all of our hearts, souls and with all our mental powers. And that we are the ones who are assigned to love the neighbor as much as we love ourselves, which of course we are. But all things in their proper order. (1 Corinthians 15:23)
Today’s gospel is first about Jesus! Until we understand that we understand nothing. Believe nothing.
If we want to be Christians and not simply “nice” people then we must understand the last verse of today’s gospel, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
What a choice of words the Lord uses here. Hang. “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” What was Jesus saying? Was he just a good teacher who alters his vocabulary to keep the hearer’s interest? Could he just as well have said: All the Law and the Prophets hinge on these two? Or: All the Law and the Prophets depend upon these words?
In English we could do that and some English translations of the Bible do. But it’s not how Scripture speaks. In the Bible this word means just what it says. To hang. It is the word that both Sts. Peter and Paul use to describe the Lord’s death on the cross.
“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree,” says Peter. Acts 5:30
And, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree,’” writes Paul. Galatians 3:13
So what are we saying? Just this. That Jesus, who is the Law and the Prophets in the flesh, is the one who hangs on the cross; hangs in the balance; because he loves God with his entire being; and because he loves you, his neighbor, more than he loved himself.
And so the Lord’s answer to this accusatory question which was designed to trip him up, and make him appear guilty, is instead a beautiful teaching of the gospel itself. Which, to go back to the beginning, is why we say that Jesus is always the subject of Scripture. First it is about him; and only about us only in as much as we are baptized into him, which we are, thank God!
So what do we learn in today’s gospel about Jesus?
First that he is true Son. To be son means to hear the voice of your Father and to do his will. It was the Lord’s mission to hang on the tree of the cross in obedience to his heavenly Father. To hang on the tree so that by this Mysterious! Sacrifice God should renew the face of the earth. Liberate us who are lost in self-love, self-promotion, self-righteousness and self-pity. Those are the sins that destroy the sinner, and everyone around him. You are that sinner! Both perpetrator and victim. And because of it you are confused, demoralized, miserable and filled with fear and anxiety each day. Curled up in your soul, licking your wounds with churled lip. Fixed in on yourself, closed in on all sides, without a holy breath, ray of light, or a thought of love for your God, or your anxious neighbor.
But not so Jesus! Not only did he hang in obedience to the pre-determined will of God, but for the love of his neighbor. You are that neighbor! By his death you have life, sweet life. By his trouble you have peace, sweet peace. And by his glorious resurrection you have living hope.
And so it is a good thing this teaching of Jesus is not about us. At least not about us running under our own steam. Not us as free agents, independent contractors, or as the captains of our own souls.
But about us in as much as we are “in Christ,” a phrase St. Paul uses nearly 100 times in his 13 epistles. A term which means to be baptized.
Running under the steam of baptism you are a New Creation. You can now see light! You can begin to comprehend the love that God displayed for you, and you now can’t help but to love him in return. This is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) This is the grace of God that faith clutches, and clings to with all its might.
Running under the steam of baptism you are emancipated from self-pity so that, like Jesus himself, you are free to cherish your neighbor, beginning with the one who sleeps in your bed, lives in your house, and working your way out from there. And so hear the Word of the Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with the full extent of your mental powers. And love your neighbor in the same way as you love yourself. Amen