While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.’ ”
David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?’ And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
In today’s reading Jesus presents us with a difficult riddle. It sounds like the sort of riddle that is used to test for unconscious bias, or some such underlying misconception. But, Jesus is not playing games with us, rather he is testing our understanding of messiahship.
‘Messiah’ is a Hebrew word that means ‘anointed one’. As one who has been anointed, the Messiah is, therefore, prophet, priest and king. In Greek, this translates into the word Christos. Thus, in the early Church, Christ was the title which was used in relation to Jesus. It was only in later times that ‘Christ’ became an alternative name for Jesus.
In ancient Jewish teaching the Messiah was the King, the true heir of David, who was yet to come and who would, in his time, rescue Israel from its pagan enemies. Assertions of the messiahship of Jesus permeate Mark’s gospel. His words and his actions up to this point in the narrative seem to be laying the foundations for this moment, this puzzling riddle about David’s Lord and David’s Son.
Jesus frames his question in the words that open Psalm 110: The Lord says to my lord … It is by engaging with the tradition that this psalm was written by David himself that Jesus is seeking to provide the clarity of thinking that will ultimately lead us to a more profound understanding of his messiahship.
Today’s reading makes no attempt to contradict the fact that Jesus is a descendant of David’s line. But, as a descendant he would be viewed as the junior, less significant member of this royal lineage. However, this cannot be so because David refers to the Messiah and my Lord.
We know, from our post-resurrection vantage point, that Jesus’ riddle points to a much larger truth than the coincidence of being born to certain parents at a certain time. Jesus is providing a glimpse of the glory that awaits him … the glory of Resurrection and Ascension.
Today’s reading is not an easy one to understand. If it is confusing for us we need to remember that we are in the company of those who were first confronted with this teaching. But, we also need to remember that we know the rest of the story. We know of the ascendancy of David’s ancestor to his place at God’s right hand. We can be absolutely certain of the messiahship of Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One of God. Now we have to pray for the courage and the strength to live our lives as ones who have been entrusted with that knowledge.