Get the Questions to Stop
#TheOnlyWayToGetTheQuestionsToStop is the podcast for October 29, 2017. How do we stop the incessant skeptical questioning within or from others? There is only one way and it has to do with our view of others and the Other. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Matthew22 #LoveGod #LoveNeighbor #GreatestCommandment #Racism #LeonardCohen #IHateMyInLaws
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For The Church of Saint Raphael the Archangel, Munster, IN and My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 10/29/2017 The 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 22:34-46.
In 2 Samuel 7, God makes a covenant with David that his throne will be an eternal throne and that one of his offspring will be the Messiah. At the beginning of Matthew is a genealogy of Jesus that traces his lineage back to David. There are 8 references to the ‘Son of David’ being the Messiah in Matthew. David is the accepted author of all the Psalms in Jewish circles of Jesus’ day. Often you will see the little note that says, “A psalm of David.” This comes from the understanding that David a lyre played for King Saul to drive away an evil spirit that afflicted Saul (It is this fact that Leonard Cohen famously writes the line in his song “Alleluia”, “Now I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord”). Psalms are songs. David played songs before the Lord. David is the author of the Psalms.
In Psalm 110, it opens with this verse, “The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” Christians understand that verse to mean that the Lord God is speaking to the Messiah, or the earthly lord who comes to save us, who is also David’s lord. This is how we know that Jesus “is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
This is the backstory about the second part of the reading that we are given for this Sunday. It has been rough sledding preaching this Ordinary Time. I had forgotten how confrontational the readings were in this section of Matthew. The lectionary rotates every three years and I had forgotten how contentious the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and leaders of the Jews were toward Jesus. They seek to trip him up at every turn. NOTHING he says is acceptable. WHATEVER he says is wrong or a cause to entrap him. The conversation has not been a conversation, it has been one long test. It has been one trap after another trap. The reason why is because all those people do not want to accept Jesus for who he is. They do not want to recognize that he is the Messiah.
He has done all the stuff the Messiah was supposed to do: He preached repentance, check. He healed the sick, check. He made the lame walk, check. The blind received sight, check. The wind and waves were calmed, check. He taught as one with authority, check. He has fed 5,000 and then 4,000, check. Besides wear a shirt that says “I am the Messiah”, I am not sure what he could do.
That tends to be the problem with acceptance though. Acceptance means we have to acquiesce to the fact that things are a certain way and that people are who they are. If you are a racist who thinks African American folk are not hard working, untrustworthy, and up to no good, it gives a whole new meaning if they see you struggling with packages and they say, “Do you need some help?” The racist mind goes right to, “they are going to steal my packages.”
I have worked with many adherents of Islam. They have been a delight. Yet, when I am in certain circles of Christians or Americans, I know that Muslims are viewed with suspicion because of radicalized terrorists who purport to be adherents of Islam. There is no telling anyone anything when there is an a priori assumption about someone or a group of people. The same is true of people we label as black sheep in families, or in-laws that we cannot stand, or ex-spouses, or children who act out, or…we could go on and on. They are always people that we say or think, “well, you know how they are.”
The point is that when we are not open to seeing the world through different lenses, we will miss out on what is really happening and who the person really is. When we are not open to the working of God, when we do not allow God to be God, then the possibilities are cut off and we could miss the work that God is doing in our lives.
The sad irony of the first part of the reading for today is that the people asking are people whose lives were dedicated to waiting for the Messiah. Instead of their anticipation, they had become skeptical of the very thing for which they were looking. When Jesus is asked what the Greatest Commandment is, he wasn’t being asked to open people up to God’s movement in their lives. He was being asked a question to show his weakness and prove he was a loser like they said and he couldn’t be the Messiah. The very people who should love God and be moved by that love to want to keep all 613 commandments of the Torah, were more concerned on using the Law to condemn David’s Son, David’s Lord, God’s anointed.
When we are in a loving relationship, we are open to the other. We trust them. We enjoy them. Their request to have one side of the bed is not onerous. Their desire to have butter spread all the way to the edges of the toast is not being too picky. The fact they would like to have their feet warmed against your toasty body is not a problem. Flowers on their birthday are a task of joy. These are the little things we can do to please them and it is OK, in fact, it can be something that we set out to do because the commandments of our life are to love the other.
So, when someone has a problem keeping a law of the commandments, it is usually because they are struggling with their relationship with God, not that God is being too picky, too harsh, too onerous. When we love God, coming to Mass is not a problem on Sundays. When we love the Lord, confessing our sins is not an issue (also because we know that the point of Confession is his desire to set us free). When we love the Lord, all kinds of little commandments, like forgiving the person we hate, become something we do because we know it will make Him happy and it really doesn’t bother us too much. The love makes a mundane task an act of pure joy.
Yet, when we are focused on what we want, what we think, what we know, what we desire, and those things alone, we then get into a snit with Jesus over what truly is the greatest commandment. So, this brings us to the summer and fall of the leaders of the Jews discontent with Jesus. Their incessant questioning of Jesus seems to never stop because they don’t accept him as the Messiah. You will notice that they only stop when they decide to kill him.
So, let me be clear, lovers ask each other questions. They delight in asking and answering questions that are in an atmosphere of love and honest inquiry. That is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about constant skepticism that keeps us from drawing closer to Jesus. If we are going to keep the commandments without bitterness we must accept Jesus as the Messiah. For our own internal skeptical questioning to stop, we must first accept that Jesus Christ is the Lord of David’s lord. For us to stop the questioning and love him, we have to accept that he is God. He is the ‘Son of David’ who is the ‘Lord of David’, God Almighty.
He is the one who descended from heaven to be born our birth, walk our walk, talk our talk, live our life, die our death so that he could give us salvation forever more. He is the One who heals us, sticks with us when others desert us, and who renews us when there seems to be no end in sight of our weariness. He is the One whose most horrible law is that we love him and love each other. The One who loves us sits at the right hand of the Father so that he can judge us after he paid the price to forgive the very sins for which we are being judged.
So, if you have become skeptical of God because of some reason that probably has more to do with the evil of humanity than the goodness of God, I invite you to open your heart to love the Lord once again. Even if you love him without the skepticism, I invite you rejoice that Jesus is the Messiah and open your heart to love him even more. Love him, accept him, be gracious to him, fall for him, think of him, and then act on that love toward one another. It is a mission that will renew everyone around you, maybe it will renew even you. Amen.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian