Read Matthew 22:15-46
This is one of my most enjoyable parts of the gospels. The Pharisees and the Sadducees are rivals but they have a common goal. They want to take down Jesus.
They want to trap him and show him to be an uneducated imposter from Galilee. Both groups are experts in the law and the prophets. They have their degrees. They can recite the words. Sometimes, they even understand the deeper meaning of the laws that they have turned into burdens for the people.
They just don’t know the heart of God. They don’t have eyes to see. They can see Jesus only as a threat to their authority, so they must take him down. It needs to be something that the people will see as clear and convincing evidence that Jesus is a fake.
So the Pharisees sent some of their followers and some of the people who sympathized with Roman rule to entrap Jesus. There are a couple things to note from this simple statement. First, the top Pharisees are not leading this charge. They are sending their lower ranking members on this assignment.
There is no “Follow me!” It’s just a go give this a try sort of mission; but the plan did have some merit to it. It combined politics and religion and there were people present to take down Jesus from both groups.
The question proffered should have been more than a simple yes or no dichotomy. It should have been a lose-lose dilemma. Jesus could pick his poison.
If he said pay taxes to Caesar, then he would lose much popular support and have somewhat endorsed a man who declared himself to be a god.
But if he said no, the Herodians would make sure the Romans knew they had a rabble rouser on their hands and Jesus might just find himself confined to a jail cell or nailed to a cross. The latter would come but only at the appointed time.
You know the story. Jesus asked for a coin—a denarius—and then asked his own question.
“Whose image is on the coin?”
The entrappers answered, “Why Caesars—of course.”
Jesus puts the matter to rest by saying to give Caesar the things that belong to him and to God the things that belong to God.
The perfect trap had not been so perfect after all. In fact, the Pharisees had lost some street credit in the encounter.
The door was wide open for the Sadducees to best Jesus and the Pharisees at the same time. They had just the trick. They would play the 7 brothers card.
Understand that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. They had surely played this one on the Pharisees a thousand times, probably resulting in many shouting and maybe shoving contests.
It was a fair proposition; therefore, it was the perfect predicament to pose to Jesus.
A man with six other brothers took a wife but gave her no child. The Law of Moses required the next brother to take her as his wife and give her an heir. He did but no child. Then he died.
Now if I am the next brother in line I might be thinking, “Pass. Let my little brother take her. She isn’t good for a man’s health.”
That’s not the way the story played out. Each brother took her as wife in turn. Each died without giving her a child.
So the question was: “At the resurrection—something the Sadducees did not believe in—whose wife will she be?”
The Sadducees had to be thinking, “Gotcha!”
Jesus replied with some authority setting the would-be trapsters on their heels.
· First, you’re just wrong
· You don’t know the scriptures
· You don’t know the power of God
· In the resurrection, there will not be any marriage. You won’t become angels but you will live in a form similar to the angels.
Then Jesus hits these so called experts where it hurts the most, in their expertise or in this case, their lack of it.
But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
I am, not I was.
Abraham had been dead a long time but his God still knew him. It is a concept that is hard to comprehend in our present form.
“I knew my grandpa. He died when I was 20. I have fond memories of our times together.”
I don’t go around saying, “I talk with my grandpa all the time.” I don’t. I believe that I will again someday, but it is not an ongoing relationship right now.
Jesus surely looked at these saddened Sadducees with a look that said, “Didn’t see that one coming, did you?”
Jesus had silenced the Sadducees. That surely brought mixed feelings among the Pharisees. Yes, these rivals had done no better than they did, but Jesus was still at large doing whatever he pleased.
It was time to send in the first string, the top guns, the expert on the law.
The expert would bait Jesus with a simple question but surely he had some tricky follow ups at the ready when the opportunity presented itself.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Bam, bam, bam—answered and follow on questions precluded by the concise but encompassing breadth of the answer.
Everything else is anchored in these two!
It’s all rooted right here.
All other commandments and prophecies are but spokes on a wheel that come to this hub of love.
Love God. Love each other. It is the center of everything you need to know!
The Pharisees tried to regroup but Jesus had some questions of his own.
“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
They replied, “The son of David.” But before they could even high five each other for this Pyrrhic victory, Jesus threw the real question.
“How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’
If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”
Jesus had done what the Pharisees wanted to do. Ask an easy question and then deliver the knockout punch with the follow up question.
The scripture says that nobody dared ask Jesus anything after this.
We could have a celebration because Jesus gave these know-it-all religious leaders their comeuppance. Maybe a little celebration is in order every time we read this pericope. It is enjoyable to read these accounts again and again.
But there is a subplot afoot.
· The religious leaders collectively have rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
· They cannot legitimately convict him of anything. He always gets the better of them.
· Their remaining recourse is to spin doctor something he said, hold a midnight kangaroo court, and get someone else to kill him.
They can’t be above board and get Jesus out of the way so these religious leaders will choose to set aside what legitimacy they have and become criminals themselves to get rid of this threat to their way of life.
That will all follow shortly but not before Jesus sets everyone straight on who these knuckleheads really are and how people and God will deal with them.