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Mysterious Signs

Matthew 22:34-46

The Rev. Jon Roberts

24 October


Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Whose Son Is the Messiah? 41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied. 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, 44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ 45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mysterious Signs

The Chief Priests ask Jesus by what right does he act this way, by James Tissot, 1886-1894

Our faith, hope and charity are increased not by a concept but rather by a mystery.[1]

We don’t trust in God simply because he is a good idea. We trust in him because we feel that he is personal to all of us. We don’t hope that God will care for others because it is a good idea. We put our hope in God because we know that he will look after those who call for help. He relates to our hearts, to our minds, and to our souls in mysterious ways, increasing our faith, hope and charity. When a person no longer believes God relates in a personal way, a crash occurs. Fundamental laws have been broken. We turn to the bible to know more about God. As we encounter him in the written word, we may sometimes fail to see the wondrous signs he has put up. We conceptualize scripture to follow our laws rather than God’s laws. Concepts that may apply to the times. Concepts out of an earnest love but misguided, leading to chaos and havoc.

This reminds me of a story. Once there was a man who needed to take a driving test. He showed up, on time, at the DMV and performed the usual eye test. Afterwards he was met by his examiner for the road test. They started off and the examiner thought 'not a bad driver so far'. He put on his seat belt, adjusted his mirror, used two hands on the steering wheel, and looked around before he backed out. Not bad. But then they came up to a red traffic signal and lo and behold, the driver sailed straight through without a qualm. “Right, that fails him,” thought the examiner inwardly, but he allowed the driver to continue. Over the next five minutes the examiner was impressed at how he signaled and used his breaks, and thought “I’ll see how he goes for the rest of the test.” The driver then came up to a second red light and once again drove right through without stopping. The examiner decided that he now had to confront him. “Do you know, you went through two stop lights so far”, he asked. “Yes, I know,” said the driver, matter-of-factly. “Who taught you how to drive?” “My Brother-in-law,” said the driver and continued back to the test center. Just then, he screeched to a sharp halt at a green light, shocking the examiner once more. “Why on earth did you do that for?” “Well” said the driver, “I was afraid my Brother-in-law might have been coming the other way.”[2]

Sometimes, we have conceived ideas in life that abide by the wrong set of laws. Laws that we have come to idolize. Laws that are either too loose or too rigid where we are confused on whether we are to stop or to go. This touches on every issue of our day. At Work, our greed should not rule us. Believing that we are being good stewards as we charge tremendous interest to the poor, putting them in modern day slavery. At Home, our pride should not rule us. Believing that we are the leader of our family as we abuse someone close by our words or actions, putting their spiritual health at risk. It was St. Gregory of Nyssa, who wrote, “Concepts create idols; Only wonder comprehends anything."[3] He spoke these words long ago, but they are there to help us today; to increase our faith, hope and charity, to God and for our neighbor.

There is always the fear of a crash when traditional meets contemporary at the intersection of our religious lives. This is what happens in Jesus’ day. Those representing both sides have approached him.[4] One has tested Jesus on his contemporary view of life after death. The other is testing his traditional views of the Law and the prophets. What they felt they knew so well, were laws they idolized, made by misguided men, who failed to live into the mystery of God. St. Tertullian once said, “The principal crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment – is idolatry."[4]

It’s ironic. On the road of good intentions, many of us can lose track of what signs to follow. We fail to recognize them because we prefer to idolize backwards concepts. We go when we should stop and we stop when we should go. The cross is the intersection for all Christians, that helps us understand God’s law. It tells us to “Go” vertically towards heaven, in adoration of the one who created us, who is very real and personal. It also tells us to “Stop” horizontally, looking side to side at our neighbor, in earnest love and care for those nearby. When we mix this up, we tend to “Go” to our neighbor adoring concepts that create nothing but contempt. We tend to “Stop” with God, looking side to side for other options to follow. The signs are there, but we refuse to obey them. In the cross. At the altar. In the sacrament of his body and blood. We don’t behold a concept, believing these are good ideas. We behold a mystery, believing that God’s grace is poured into us, and by obeying the sign of the cross, it helps us to be better law abiding citizens of God's kingdom and to increase in faith, hope and charity.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[3] St. Gregory of Nyssa. Synthesis Year A, 26 October 2008, Proper 25.
[4] Matthew 22:34-46
[5] David Bercott. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1998. p.350.

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