Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And 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. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?
If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:34–46)
Done. You lean back in the chair, close the book and stare off into the distance. The detective has solved the crime, and you start thinking back through the book. Now that you know the culprit, it all begins to fall into place. The odd clues the author had placed back in chapter three, things you’d not noticed when you read them for the first time. As you flip back through the book you appreciate the real skill of the author, and you begin to wonder why you hadn’t spotted all this before. It all makes sense. Very satisfying.
That’s the point of books, they all allow the author to develop a theme so that the ending can carry more significance. It’s the skill of the author which sells the books, as his or her reputation grows. Poirot was all very clever, but it was Agatha Christie who was the one who really had the magnificent ‘little grey cells’.
You can - and should - think of the Bible in the same way. The title “New Testament” can be misleading, as it suggests that in some way it replaces the “Old Testament”. It is better to think of the New Testament as the final chapter of the Old Testament, the one where you find out the solution to the mystery. To think of them as two entirely different collections of books is to make a mistake. You could, if you wished, pick up The Orient Express and just read the last chapter, but it would be fair to say you wouldn't really get much satisfaction! In the same way the Old Testament sets up the New and gives it much more meaning.
There is another thing, too. Although there are sixty-six books in the Bible, spanning many centuries, it is important to understand that there is a unifying theme. In today’s passage, when Jesus introduces the quote from Psalm 110, he says: “How is it that David, in the Spirit...”.
“In the Spirit” is an unusual phrase, but is one which Peter picks up on when he describes how the authors of the Bible wrote their books: “... no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
What Jesus (and Peter) are saying here is not that David was in some sort of trance, but rather that his writings were inspired. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he wrote what God intended him to write. The words are fully David’s but God stands behind, ‘carrying him along’. This allows us to understand that the Bible can contain chapters and verses which might take centuries to be fully understood. God can lay clues through the writing of David a thousand years before Jesus is born. Clues which we only fully understand when we get to the ‘final chapter’, the New Testament.
With all that in mind, it is worth now looking at Jesus’s debate with the Pharisees. He begins by asking them: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”. The answer which the Pharisees give is one which any Jew would have given: “the son of David”. There was a long expectation that one from David’s line would once more reign in Jerusalem. David was not only a great military leader, who conquered Jerusalem and expanded Israel’s borders, but he was described by God as “a man after my own heart”. To a people under occupation, another like David is just what they wanted! A man who blended military prowess with piety.
Jesus then quotes from Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”. After reciting these verses, he then goes on to comment: “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
Here’s the thing. The Psalm is written by David, and speaks of some future Messiah. Everyone would have agreed on that. Jesus, though, then points out the clue which had been left in the verse: the phrase “my Lord”. If David is referring to the Messiah as ‘my Lord’ then that suggests, that the Messiah is greater that David. After all, he calls him ‘Lord’. The ‘son of David’ is actually greater than David.
And there is more, the Psalm speaks of this greater-than-David figure sitting at God’s right hand. There is no higher place to sit! What is more honourable than being God’s right hand man?
Finally the verse speaks of God putting enemies under the Messiah’s feet. David may have defeated his enemies in war, but there will be something different in the way things happen with the Messiah. Rather than killing thousands, the Messiah will have his enemies placed under his feet by God. This side of the resurrection, we understand even more than Jesus was letting on at the time. We know that rather than taking lives, this Messiah gave up his life. His followers come not by conquest, but rather are given him by God. As Jesus himself prays just before his death: “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours” (John 17:9).
So, Jesus is saying, you may think that the Son of David will be some sort of echo of David. Someone who shares military prowess with his more illustrious forebear. Not so! Look at the scriptures, and see that the Messiah will in fact be greater than David. It’s all there, it’s just you hadn’t noticed it! The clues have been planted, but you only get it once you find out ‘whodunnit’.
And in the glorious sweep of the history of Israel, and the ever widening sweep of the history of God saving his people, it is always the same person ‘whodunnit’.
Which is why we are called Christians.