Jesus Takes (and Gives) a Bar Exam

exam questionMatthew 22:34-46

The legalists huddled up when they heard that Jesus had confounded the traditionalists. Then one of them, a lawyer, tried to give him a bar exam starting with the question: Which commandment in the law is the greatest?

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ is the first, greatest commandment. And there’s another wording of the commandment says the same thing: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Everything else in the law, and everything the truth-tellers have said, is a footnote.”

Then, while they were still gathered there, Jesus asked them a question: Whose protégé do you think will save the world?

“Our nation’s Savior is the CEO of the David Company,” they said.

“Then how is it,” Jesus asked, “that David, Sr. said, as if it were the wisdom of God:

God said to my boss,
Stick with me
And I’ll take care of your competitors.

“What kind of savior takes orders from someone else’s boss?”

No one was able to answer this question. And after that, nobody had the gall to ask him anything else.

It’s tempting to separate this passage into two parts:

  1. The lawyer’s question and Jesus’ answer, and
  2. Jesus’ question that’s impossible to answer.

It’s tempting to drop the second part (too confusing), and hang onto the first (love, love, love).

But the lectionary is right to keep the two together in the same reading. Because the answer to part 2 is the same as the answer to the question in part 1. And the lawyer (and many Christians along with him) failed his own bar exam.

What kind of savior takes orders from someone else’s boss?

  • The savior who loves God with everything she’s got.

Which is the same as:

  • the savior who loves his neighbor as himself.

And, Jesus’ question prompts the lawyer (and us) to connect the dots and see that this is also the same as:

  • the one who makes the rules (the boss, the king, the president, the CEO, the Session, the Board of Trustees, the Deacons, and the Pharisees) making the rules so that they take into consideration the well-being even of the competition. (“Oh… that kind of take care of!”)

(Bonus: Until I put your enemies under your feet indicates the consummation of the divine project in which “all things are reconciled” to God. While the traditional interpretation has taken this to mean that the enemies are vanquished, the gospel’s understanding – Jesus’ re-appropriation of the tradition – is that all things are made whole and brought into their proper place. They are not squashed; they are made friends. It’s this misunderstanding of the psalm that stymied the lawyer, the Pharisees, and many others.)

What is the greatest commandment then? As far as Jesus is concerned, it’s to participate in a community where, whoever you are in whatever position, everyone is taken care of. And that means everyone.

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