“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”
This familiar doxology of praise is a source of comfort and reassurance for me, especially when things are getting crazy; but perhaps not for the reason you may be thinking. Of course there is the unmistakable and timeless praise given to the undivided Trinity. But, if I’m honest, it is the second half of the doxology that reassures me, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.”
The conclusion of the doxology is reassuring because it reminds me that the craziness, the fear, and the uncertainty we may be encounter or experience is nothing new under the sun. While you and I may be encountering it for the first time, or the scale of it may have expanded with time, humanity that has gone before us has certainly experienced it on some scale and thus far survived and shared their experiences; and for almost two thousand years so have other followers of Jesus Christ.
It’s not so much that humanity has seen it all, but that we have experienced some variation of recurring patterns and have that history to inform our response. Today, Jesus is tapping into this shared history in the last days of his earthly existence as he is confronted by Herodians, Sadducees, and Pharisees who are trying to discredit him before his followers and onlookers. Jesus knows the commentary of the Hebrew Scriptures that has been formed through debate and scholarly study by those who have come before him, and he uses this knowledge to present his case to those who seek to silence him.
Thus far, in the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus has been able to use his knowledge of the midrashic commentary to silence the followers of Herod, who seek to entrap him on the topic of the Temple tax; and he silences the Sadducees, who try to ensnare him on the implication of levirate marriage and resurrection. Now the Pharisees make one last attempt to trip Jesus up; one of them asks, “which commandment in the Law is the greatest?”
As with the Herodians and Sadducees, Jesus is prepared. Citing Deuteronomy 6:5 he responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” But he doesn’t stop here; as if to thwart an anticipated rebuttal, Jesus cites an unquestioned teaching of perhaps the foremost Jewish scholar and sage of Jesus’ time – Hillel the Elder.
According to legend, Hillel the Elder, like Moses, lived to be 120 years old. His death occurred in the year 10 CE when Jesus was boy. While not exactly contemporaries, Hillel’s teachings would have been as current to Jesus and his peers as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s preaching is to Kadance or Josiah.
Just as Michael Curry may be remembered for the Jesus Movement and his preaching, one of the most recalled teachings of Hillel the Elder is his teaching on Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” As you hear it here, this is the New Revised Standard Version of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Another translation of this verse, as it is attributed to Hillel reads, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law, and all else is commentary.” It is thought that Jesus is citing Hillel the Elder’s teaching when he says, “And a second [commandment] is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” The significance of this connection is not just its nearness in time, but that Hillel the Elder was a Pharisee and the Nasi – that is the President – of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious authority in Roman occupied Jerusalem, and the same body to which the Sadducees and Pharisees belong.
Thus Jesus taps into a common experience and learning by citing not just one of the Pharisees’ own but one of their preeminent teachers and leaders. Hearing Hillel’s own words from the mouth of Jesus, the Pharisees are disarmed, the question is settled, and they are done. The Pharisees realize that they are no match for Jesus when it comes to the substance of the Law. They will have to find another way.
Having endorsed the Pharisees’ own commentary on the Law and then using it to disarm them, Jesus moves on to clarify his own authority as Messiah. Not in terms of common expectations but in scriptural and genealogical terms. Rather than cite the Prophets, Jesus quotes the Psalms, which are commonly attributed to David – the ancestor of Jesus’ step-father Joseph. I say step-father because Jesus is not descended by blood but related by his mother’s marriage. Thus Jesus poses the question, how can David call his descendant Master? Just days before his death, with this question Jesus bridges the gulf between his biological existence and his divine existence, and none of the religious authorities dare ask anymore questions lest Jesus prove his case against them before the people.
Jesus has his opponents on the ropes. So why doesn’t he press the argument home and carry the day? Because, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Because commentary – debate and scholarly study – in and of itself has never carried the day. In the end, it has always been our human need for hard lived experience to reveal life-altering lessons to us. In other words, we need to experience the Passion – Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection – to recognize the Messiah in our midst.
You and I experience the Passion together year after year, and we remember it week after week. Yet still, amid the noise and distraction of life, we lose sight of it from time to time and slip back into petty disagreements with our neighbors and even with our Creator. We need the regular reminder of our crucified and resurrected Savior to check and correct our inclinations and bring us back into communion with one another. “[A]s it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.”
Therefore, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Law, and all else is commentary.”
 Matthew 22:35
 Shabbath 31a, as cited by Albright and Mann, Matthew: A New Translation and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible, Yale University Press, 1971, p. 274
 Matthew 22:39-40
 Albright and Mann, p. 274