This Sunday is reformation Sunday, hence the singing of Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress. Since the very beginning of the church, people have been set on reforming it; actually, we would say that all Christ was really trying to do was to reform the Jewish community to be more focused on and directed by God. Many scholars have linked the reform movement back to before the church was even recognized by Constantine to the earliest biblical writings by Paul.
The characteristics of the reformed movement are found in a Latin phrase that is translated to read that we are “reformed and always being reformed.” While some make this statement to be about continual reforming to the needs of the culture, I, as well as many theologians, interpret this phrase to suggest that we are always trying to get back to the most simple expression of faith. In other words, that we are trying to cut out all of the traditions and “junk” that we have picked up along the way and get back to a simple faith. Reforming back to the essentials or maybe the essential!
This week the passage that we are looking at is the Matthew 22:34-46 pericope. This is one of the many times throughout the Gospels that Jesus reiterates the “Golden Rule.” After taking on the Sadducees, the Pharisees saw their opening and went to challenge Christ. Their challenge was obviously a setup, but Jesus knew what they were going for. The challenge was set when they asked what the greatest commandment was, to which he responds with the golden rule. What is interesting in this is the statement “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Think about that for a second; this is really the answer that catches the Pharisees off guard. Because Jesus came back to the very basic answer that answered everything else.
In our vision of Christ, this is a trait that we see him coming back to over and over again. It is rooted in the question of “why are we doing . . . ?” One of the great battles that Christ fought and a big reason for his coming, is the fact that the traditions had become the faith over the faith itself. This is seen in Jesus’ response following the initial question from the Pharisees, “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” Here, Jesus is highlighting a tradition understanding, playing a little bit of a logic game which highlights that the tradition of believing that the Messiah would be the son of David was wrong, because in David’s own words he revealed his position.
The problem that the Pharisees are having with Christ is that they believe that he cannot possibly be the Messiah. For Christ, he shows that a big reason that they cannot see him as the Messiah is that they are too focused on their tradition to be open to the ways of God.
This is a very contemporary problem, though not too different from various generations before. As humans we long for order and stability, and there is nothing better than tradition to further that; however, when we let our tradition and formalities dictate our actions we become products of systems and often become blind to the workings of God. This was actually one of the big complaints against the Monastic and Gregorian movements that their order and life-style allowed for a certain level of self-indulgence and their rules were more guides than God. Whether absolutely true or not, the fact is that for the reformers, the desire is to always be purging out the traditions that serve no purpose and be finding ways to get back to the simple faith and life ordered and guided by God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen