“Trick or Treat?” “We are going to ask you an impossible question and, if you give the wrong answer, something bad might happen to you!” In today’s reading, Jesus’ opponents take it in turns to attempt to catch him out by asking him to ‘clarify’ what he believes. It turns out that, led by the Holy Spirit, he answers them all rather well – and even goes on to ask them a tricky question in return.
He had just recently cleared the Temple courtyard of all the money changers and animal vendors – quite a reasonable thing to do since it was his own Father’s house! The Jewish rulers were really annoyed and wanted him to declare on what authority he was entitled to do such a thing. Jesus’ answer sounded a bit like a politician’s: change the subject and ask a question of your own in return! But his aim was to spell out that his authority was the same as John the Baptist’s, and to get the rulers to admit that publicly. Since John was so highly regarded by the people, they couldn’t publicly deny his authority, but to confirm it would mean agreeing that John’s message about Jesus was also true. So, they took the politician’s way out instead!
Jesus followed this up with the Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard. No-one would have needed a high IQ to work out that the ‘stars’ of that story were the Jewish hierarchy themselves – and they didn’t like that one bit.
“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (v25) sums up our disciple’s role of ‘dual citizenship’. Romans chapter 13 commands us to be good earthly citizens and to pay our taxes, respecting the rule of law and the earthly authorities in our lives. But that is not enough: we need to give back to God what is rightfully his too. And that, of course, is everything!
The Sadducees were a ruling faction that controlled the High Priesthood and that did not believe in resurrection or an afterlife. They were fond of convoluted riddles that took elements of the scriptures too literally. Jesus explained that the Age to Come will be so much better than this one and that some of the best things we enjoy now will pale into insignificance when He returns. Marriage is one such example. Jesus also showed that Abraham and his descendants must still be alive in a Paradise state – even now – since the Lord is now their God. No-one had thought of that proof text before, and the Pharisees, who did believe in resurrection, rather liked it. The Apostle Paul, in Acts 23, used this theological dispute to divide his persecuting opponents in front of the Roman authorities.
Jesus was on a roll! So he asked the Sadducees a testing question in return: under what circumstances would the great King David have called his future messianic offspring ‘My Lord’? (vv42-43, a quote from Psalm 110:1). There was no logical answer other than the fact that the Messiah must also have been God the Son too.