When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, an expert in the law, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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 greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by 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 David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
The verses in this Sunday’s Gospel reading feel like Jesus’s mic drop moment.
It’s easier to lean into the first part. The Golden Rule appears multiple times throughout the Bible. Indeed, nearly all known religious texts have a version. On its own, it feels completely obvious as a universal tenet of human morality. How is it possible, then, that we continue to engage in, ignore, or justify dehumanizing and violent revenge, policies, wars, rhetoric, and oppression? In our present dark age, it’s easy to become cynical. But resisting it must be what hope and faith looks like.
In the second part of his response to the law expert’s question, Jesus turns the question back to the Pharisees in what sounds like an unsolvable riddle. In contemporary parlance, we might say that Jesus just “owned” the Pharisees and cheer the win.
But when we put all the pieces of the past few weeks’ readings together — paying special attention to this week’s interrogation of Jesus — and if we remove what sounds to our ears as treachery or snark, the conversation becomes deeply philosophical and filled with longing. We might even hear ourselves wondering about the true identity of God, as Moses did, which leads us to ponder the divinity of Jesus, humanity, and ourselves.
And we might conclude that in the mysteries of God’s time-space continuum, the Sadducees and the Pharisees could be us. They choose to act against their own divinity, against God’s commandments of love, with violent corruption that leads to Jesus’s murder. They become silent in their self-awareness, choosing to double down on protecting their own position and power, no matter the cost.
But maybe Jesus was not trying to call them out. Maybe he was reminding them that God is present always. And that they still had a choice. As do we.
Irish theologian and poet Pádraig Ó Tuama, who lived through the personal and political conflict of the Troubles, reflects on Sunday’s Gospel reading and asks us to consider the cost of losing and winning.
Can we revive The Golden Rule as something more than a nice theory? Religion writer Karen Armstrong thinks so — and that cultivating true compassion, not just gooey feelings, can change the world.
Liturgy of Anti-Tank Obstacles, a documentary short film by director Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk, shows artists preparing for war.
The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra demonstrates what is possible when the common language becomes music and the holiness of making it together.
Peace is only possible with compassion, and shared grief is a start. From poet Jan Richardson, “Blessing When the World Is Ending.”