Saturday, April 10, 2010

The LORD said to my Lord

Then Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit:

'The LORD said to my Lord,

"Sit at my right hand,

Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." '

"Therefore David himself calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?" And the common people heard him gladly.

- Mark 12:35-40

We recall that in yesterday's reading, Jesus told the scribe, who had asked him about the greatest commandment, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." We reflected upon the irony of this statement - that "The kingdom of heaven has come near" is the phrase Jesus taught the apostles to use as they went out on their first mission, and it is one Christ himself has used in preaching and teaching. The irony is that Christ himself, standing in front of the scribe and talking with him, is the One who uttered the phrase. Not far indeed! And in today's reading, Jesus' identity as Christ - Messiah - is what he elaborates on, the focus of his question back to the scribes.

Then Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?" The understanding of the leadership is that the Christ (or Messiah - both mean "anointed one") is to be a human being; that is, a mere human being. So, after Jesus has cleansed the temple (a messianic act), and as he was hailed and accepted by many of the common people as Messiah on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday, the verbal skirmishes with the leadership and their testing and quizzing of Jesus become open. Jesus has repeatedly expressed his identity now that he is in Judea, and the time is set for open conflict with the leadership. Today, he turns the tables on those who have been quizzing them, with a quiz of his own, about the nature of the Messiah. "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?"

"For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: 'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool." ' " This quotation is from Psalm 110. Therefore David himself calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?" My study bible notes that, "The answer, of course, is that David calls Him 'Lord' in his divinity, yet Jesus is also David's Son in His humanity." David, as King, would never refer to anyone else as Lord, except a Divine Person. The Hebrew words in the psalm for LORD and Lord are, respectively, Yahweh and Adoni. "Yahweh" is the word we use for the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, the name of God. "Adoni" or "Adon" is a word that means "master" or "Lord." Jesus is giving an insight, an understanding, of King David's inspired words about the Messiah. The different words are interpreted in use as to refer to different aspects of divinity. Yet, we also know that Jesus - through his earthly father/custodian, Joseph - is descended from the house of David. Jesus is opening up to the scribe the question of Messianic identity through the use of the scriptures, and therefore of Jesus' own identity.

We are told, "And the common people heard him gladly." This gives us an insight into the workings in the temple, and the delight at this charismatic figure who has turned the tables on his accusers in the leadership. In tomorrow's reading, we will get a taste of the nature of this resentment, and why figures like Jesus and John the Baptist were popular among the people. But for today, we marvel at Jesus in his role as scholar, who turns the tables on those who are the official scholars of the Scriptures, the scribes, who cannot reply - because Jesus has stumped them through his brilliance with language, his insight that does not come from the years of study and credentialed authority of the scribes, but rather his own authority and wisdom.

I think it's essential that we understand from this passage not only the power of words and meaning, but Jesus' very identity as Logos - He by whom things come into being, the Word. At the heart of "the delight of the common people" is an understanding that there is truth that is a substance beyond that to which we merely assent intellectually. Truth is the power in his words and in his love, in Christ's Being. It creates an impact beyond texts and understanding, although it may be hidden in those texts, waiting for us to see it. But, regardless of where we stand and who we are, our education, there is a visceral, substantial aspect to truth which we all may perceive, in our hearts. The common people, we're told, are delighted, because they relate directly to this charismatic figure. They understand his love. The authority expressed in the Psalm by the reference to "the Lord" is the authority they perceive in Jesus, and the authority Jesus has used in his preaching and teaching, in the cleansing of the temple, and in turning the tables on the scribes in this passage. How do you relate to this authority? Where does it come from for you? Does love play a role in your understanding of Christ and your relationship to him? Truth is something inseparable from love in this context, in the aspects of identity of Christ - both in his humanity as Jesus and in the risen Christ to whom we pray and have relationship in prayer. How does this power and authority speak to you? Does it give you insight, help and comfort? How does it surpass what you may learn by reading, or rather, give insight to it all? In this Easter Week, we continue to understand the nature of that "Lord" and how his ever-presence continues to inform and sustain us, walk with us. He delights the crowd, and shocks the scribes with his answers and questions: just as he overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the cleansing of the temple, so he turns the tables on the scribes. He shakes them up, and invites them to think. And he will continue to speak for the common people, in the substance of truth and love that reaches to the hearts of all who love him.