Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Who said you could Occupy the Temple? - Luke 20 - Jesus' Final Week part 2

Occupy the Temple part 2 of 3
(Click to read Luke 20)
(Click to read part 1)
Luke 20:1-2 (ESV)
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.”

Our chapter opens on a dramatic scene in Jerusalem city. In the courtyard of the new and impressive fifteen story high stone temple, once home to corrupt bankers, businessmen, and other assorted thieves, sits a critical mass of the poor common folk in their place. Booths and tables for selling overpriced religious goods to tourists were occupying this space only yesterday. But the sights and sounds of a marketplace on the property of this house of worship have been replaced by a small community of displaced and hungry persons, listening with joy and anticipation to the teachings of a rural, poor, working-class Galilean.

The authorities are unhappy. This is their space, their place of power. And they've determined it to be better used as it was, for taking advantage of the religious faithful, not a place for building community and listening to an un-credentialed commoner talk about God. But there isn't much they can do about it yet. They are afraid of the people (v19).

They challenge his authority, asking him who had given him permission to be there, or who had ordained him to preach from scripture.

Jesus had already answered this question. Before he began his ministry, he stood up in a synagogue, and read from Isaiah, saying the verse was about him, beginning on that day.

Luke 4:17-19 (ESV)
17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Such has been the nature of his ministry up until this point. He has preached and demonstrated freedom, justice, and love, even in resistance to the religious and political powers. Here in the temple courtyard, in the shadow of the buildings erected by a puppet government of Rome to gain the favour of the masses, he continues to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God.

But instead of answering directly, Jesus challenges them to tell him who had given John the Baptist his authority. He was also a popular teacher, and just as lacking in credentials as Jesus.

Luke 20:3-4 (ESV)
3 He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, 4 was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?”

They were stuck. They couldn't speak against John in the presence of the crowds. They couldn't speak for him, or they might legitimate Jesus' teaching. Afraid, they say they don't know. And if they don't know about John, how then can they have the authority to determine whether Jesus is able to preach? Jesus has disarmed them.


Luke 20:8 (ESV)
And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

For the rest of the chapter this back and forth continues. The authority of the age continues to try to undermine Jesus' authority. Jesus continues to teach about the Justice and Love of God's Kingdom, and the coming demise of the old ways of corrupt power, both religious and political.

It is in these two realms that the authorities focus their attacks. If they can catch Jesus saying something to contradict his faith or scripture, they can remove him as a heretic. If they can catch him saying something explicit against the empire, they can have him removed as an insurrectionist and a criminal.

They want their centre of control back.

Jesus and the crowds are under heavy surveillance.

The Political Challenge (vv19-26)

Jesus' teachings and his life had strong social and political consequences. His mother sang over him before his birth that his life would bring down kings, and put the humble in their place (Luke 1:52 and notes). Jesus proclaimed woes on the rich in his Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:24 and notes). His ministry was inaugurated by the reading of a prophecy about setting the oppressed free (Luke 4 notes). His entire message so far has been about the Good News of God's Kingdom, in which a Great Reversal will turn the order of everything toward justice and love (Luke 13 notes).

Luke 20:20-26 (ESV)
20  So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar's.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marvelling at his answer they became silent.

Jesus wasn't carrying any money on him.

answer is both political and spiritual. The image on the coin was, indeed, Caesar. The inscription was, "Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus". (Caesar himself claimed to be the son of god and divine, a blasphemy punishable by death according to religious law. Ironically, the religious leaders are here ready to turn Jesus over to Caesar because they are threatened by people believing he is divine.) By distinguishing between Caesar and God, Jesus protests and denies the validity of the inscription he had just pointed out.

In the Jewish story of Creation, God makes human beings in his own image.

Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
     male and female he created them.

If Jesus is saying that the image of Caesar on a coin implies his ownership and authority, upon what is the image of God stamped? To the crowds and the religious leaders that heard him, Jesus was undeniably claiming that God was the one with highest authority.

It may be that Caesar has authority to decide how and by whom his empire's money would be used. But the image of God is stamped on every poor person in that courtyard, upon the religious leaders who questioned Jesus, and even upon Caesar himself. God could use, spend, or call back to himself any one of these people into whom he had breathed life whenever he wished.

Jesus had taught these same crowds that they did not need to worry about their clothes or their food, because they had a Heavenly Father that fed them (Luke12:22-24 and notes). He taught them to pray every day for their provision (Luke 11:3), and to otherwise live with open hands of radical generosity and love (Luke 6:35-36). They were children of God, and free from the bondage of the world's system of capital.

So let Caesar have his money. We belong to our Creator, our King, our Father. Once we've given him everything that is his, our allegiance, our love, our possessions, our very lives, there won't be much left for Caesar.

If Caesar were to believe the same, he would have no issue with Jesus saying this. If Caesar were to believe himself sovereign, he would not understand Jesus' words, and would still have no issue with him.

The Religious Challenge (vv27-40)

The Sadducees were a powerful religious sect with some of the most stringent boundaries on their understandings of God and scripture. Many other Rabbis taught from interpretations and applications from the whole of Hebrew scripture, history, and tradition. The Pharisees were one group that taught this way, and Jesus practiced a form of this as well. But the Sadducees accepted only the first five books of Moses as authoritative. If something wasn't explicitly stated in these books, they questioned its validity. In practice, they were the most liberal in their dealings with politics and the Roman empire. They believed in holding office and compromising with Rome when mutually beneficial. In belief, this meant they were strict empiricists. They did not believe in spirits or the miraculous. Neither did they believe there would be a resurrection and judgment at the end of days. They were unique in rejecting these common beliefs, making their challenge all the more difficult to unravel.

The resurrection was an important part of Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God, so this is where the Saducees focus their criticism.

They present him with a carefully convoluted question about remarriage and death to try to trap him in an impossible rhetorical circumstance. The foundation of their question is scripture from the first five books. The premises included the question of who a legitimately remarried woman would be married to when she and all her husbands were resurrected in God's Kingdom.

Jesus begins his answer with an unsolicited correction to their question. Marriage is for now, not for eternity. Our lives in the eternity of God's Kingdom Fulfilled won't include such things. But he goes on to defend his belief in resurrection anyway, using the first five books of Moses to do so.

Luke 20:37-40 (ESV)
37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

Jesus Returns the Challenges

Each time Jesus is challenged, he wisely disarms his opponents and turns the challenge back onto them. But he does not play the victim. Jesus is just as willing to challenge these powers and the legitimacy of their authority as they are his.

First Challenge - Parable of the Tenants (vv9-18)

Jesus tells the people a parable of tenants given a landowner's authority over a vineyard in his absence. The landlord sends servants back to receive the fruit of the vineyard, but the tenants reject them all, arrogantly treating each one worse than the last.

Finally, the landlord sends his "beloved son", the same words used to describe Jesus at his transfiguration (Luke 9:35; Matthew 7:5). This son is killed. Jesus has three times predicted his own death in Luke. Here he reveals to the authorities publicly that he knows their plans.

The leaders know the story is about them (v19), so the conclusion is significant. Jesus says that the landlord will kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. This is a potent image considering the dramatic reversal already recently demonstrated when the bankers and businessmen in the temple courtyard were replaced by the crowds sitting before them.

Luke 20:17-18 (ESV)
17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone’?

18  Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

Second Challenge - Who is David's Son?(vv41-44)

Both Jesus' challengers and the crowds before him are wondering at his identity. Days before, he had entered the city to the worship and adoration of crowds that called him a King who comes in God's name (Luke 19:38) or "Son of David" (Matthew 21:9), both titles for the promised Messiah who would came and set his people free from oppression. When asked to stop them, Jesus replied that if they did, the rocks themselves would cry out instead.

Here, Jesus challenges their ideas about who this Messiah is. David prophesies of Messiah, calling him "Lord". Jesus asks how this Messiah could be David's son, yet also be called "Lord". Jesus' question implies its answer. If David, the most powerful and beloved king in Israel's history called Messiah "Lord", then Messiah will be even greater than David.

It's a powerful claim from someone who just had a crowd call him by that name, a crowd now surrounding his opponents.

Luke 20:42-44 (ESV)
42 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
43     until I make your enemies your footstool.’

44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

The Third Challenge - Warning Against the Religious Elite (vv45-47)

The chapter ends with Jesus at the top of every challenge. Standing before his opponents, the old guard protecting the old systems, he boldly warns the people not to follow them, and condemns them for their corruption.

Luke 20:45-47 (ESV)
45  And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the market-places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, 47  who devour widows' houses and for a pretence make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Jesus speaks Truth to power. The old world is crumbling. The new world is coming alive through the cracks. The mountains are being removed. The valleys are rising. Everything is different now.

After Jesus drives the sellers out of the temple, the religious leaders try to find ways to trap him in a sin or crime and kill him, or have him killed.
It is appropriate that they would question his authority. Clearing out the temple questioned their authority.

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