Is the Messiah a priest or king, and whose son is he?
So near and so far, it was almost touching distance, only twenty nine thousanths of a second and he would have won the formula one race. I am amazed in sport at just how small the difference is between winning and coming second. But that is not the only field in which it matters. Success in any field takes dedication, hard work and a shed load of inspiration. Something that Moses discovered millennia before.
There he was standing high on the mountaintop, he could almost touch it, the Promised Land. A land with flowing water, a fertile land, a land rich with minerals and there it was, laid out before him, just across the river; he could see it all, smell it but not stand on it; it was so near but so far. Joshua who had been prepared well, waited ready to cross the Jordan and bring his people home.
God’s liberator, had been born a slave, adopted as a prince, he became a murderer and refugee: Moses had done what God had told him to do, even if at times reluctantly and needing a push in the right direction. We might think, after all Moses had achieved for God and his chosen people, he would have, at the very least, stepped onto his dream homeland. But God had another agenda that was to take centuries to unfold and the memories of Moses and the Exodus would remain constant throughout. No one would equal him as prophet until Elijah and no one bring us closer to God until Jesus himself.
At times we can all find keeping to the rules difficult. From childhood we learn that our actions have consequences and sometimes they also carry a punishment. It has been said that the commandments are impossible to keep, for Jewish people there were 613, and they were designed that way to make room for God’s grace.
It was to Moses that God gifted the commandments, and we discover in the gospels the limitations of the Law. Jesus was constantly being challenged by the scholars of his day. Was it ok to heal the sick on the Sabbath, did that constitute work? Picking fruit from a tree on the Sabbath, was it lawful? What about a widower who had remarried, who would be his wife after the resurrection? And what about paying taxes to the Roman Empire? Using words from Israel’s creed (the Shema), Jesus silenced his critics with wisdom and love, gifting us the Two Great Commandments; Love God and Love your Neighbour. He would go on to gift himself, as did Paul, in pastoral care, love and finally with his life.
The Law of Moses was a defining feature of Israel’s identity, and for a Pharisee this meant that it was exclusive. Jesus reminded them that the heart of Israel’s Law was love for all and it would mean their special relationship with God was no longer for them alone; this would have caused a seismic shift in their understanding. Israel existed for the sake of the world and not the other way about.
At the end of the conversation with the Pharisees Jesus posed a question of his own; “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” It was one of those questions that leave us in a quandary. To answer was impossible for the Pharisees without seeming absolutely wrong or absolutely insane, and so it remained firmly unanswered.
Is the Messiah a priest or king, and whose son is he? If we look at Psalm 110 we discover the dilemma that had already been around for two centuries before Jesus’ day? The status of kings and priests was a real issue and Jesus develops the scriptures to define a theological argument that rocked the Temple priesthood and the kingship of Herod’s dynasty. It was only after people began to realise that he, Jesus was both, then they could appreciate that the Law could only take them so far. They needed a new Joshua to take them to a new home.
We, two thousand years later, have the same questions to answer, what and who is Jesus? Generations of young people at St Marys, preparing for their confirmation, spent weeks reading and reflecting on what Christians believe and we all need to regularly refine our own understanding as we develop and grow in faith. Paul recognised this and taught that the early church needed to lose the mind-set of being slaves and think beyond their personal circumstances. This still applies today.
Paul linked the history of Israel, the ‘Law’ and the prophets, and offered Jesus as the new Moses. A sacrifice bringing his people back to God and that this was not limited to Jewish people alone. He described the Church as ‘the body of Christ’, and how it needed to use the Spiritual gifts of its individual members to bring together a response to God - of worship and praise - worthy of the King and his Kingdom. Paul in his letter to the Romans - displayed God’s limitless love for the whole of creation. Jesus, because of his humanity, gave a perfect example of how we are to respond to infinite love, with complete and unconditional love for God and neighbour.
Two thousand years later Paul’s message of God’s limitless love for his creation and Paul’s own love for them is just as relevant to us as it was to the Thessalonian church. We too are challenged to look beyond our present circumstances and live the Kingdom life in the here and now.
And so when our obituary is written let us pray that we will win the prize, crossing over into the new land of promise, and we meet our Lord face-to-face, in the light of a life lived in love of God and our neighbour, may we be able to say without hesitation “You are the Messiah, Son of the living God, who knows me and loves me for who I am”
The Rev’d Maureen Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 25/10/2020