Great Commandments and Jesus’ Authority

The gospel reading for today (Matthew 22:34-46) contains two distinct sections.

The first is a beloved passage in which Jesus affirms the comprehensive love of God as the most important commandment, and the love of one’s neighbor as oneself as the second.

The second section is a rather confusing piece dealing with the interpretation of Psalm 110:1.

The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”

Jesus asked the Pharisees, “If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”

I’ll venture to guess that there were more sermons focused on the first half of the lectionary reading than on the second, and that’s a shame.

Matthew sees the Psalm 110 conversation as an important element in the picture that he draws for us with Holy Week dialogues. Here’s how I see the two sections of Matthew 22:34-46 fitting together. If Jesus isn’t actually the Lord of all – if he isn’t King David’s king – then who cares what he thinks about the commandments.

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:34-40 is not terribly revolutionary. We don’t need Jesus to confirm what decent human beings intuitively know. As recorded in the pages of Matthew’s gospel, however, Jesus’ application of these principles is very challenging. People keep asking, “By what authority is he doing this? Where did he get this teaching?”

Following Jesus’ resurrection, he makes explicit what he only implies here: all authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) It is his authority that forms the foundation of the commission that follows: make disciples and teach them to observe everything I have commanded you. It’s his authority that makes his teachings more than just an interesting topic for discussion around the table, and more than just another religious opinion.