Chapter XV


124. Jesus enters Jerusalem
        The second lamentation
126. Jesus casts out commerce
127. On faith and forgiveness
128. Challenge by the rulers
129. Parables against the rulers
130. Give unto Caesar
        Marriage in the afterlife
        The greatest commandments
131. Whose son is the Messiah
        The adulterous woman (John 8:1-11)







All four gospels report that Jesus entered into Jerusalem accompanied by a great crowd, who spread the roadway with palm branches for him, as he rode on a donkey through the gate. They also say that this was fulfillment of an Old Testament verse:
                Behold, your king comes to you, O Zion;
                Meek and humble, and riding upon a donkey. (Zech.9:9)
But it is more likely that the quotation was found AFTER Jesus was dead; he has never claimed to be a king, and has taught humility and service. It is reported also that the crowds shouted, Hosanna, and Blessed is he that comes in the name of our God! But this latter is the traditional way of greeting the arrival of a PROPHET, not a king; and the spreading of branches and their garments is not a customary way of greeting a king, either. But the proof that this was written later, after Jesus had already become deified, is where the narrator refers to him as "the Lord", and where he is reported as telling the disciples that they should tell the owner, "The Lord has need of this mount"! Jesus would never have referred to himself as "the Lord".


Then Luke, but only Luke, reports another poignant lamentation over the fate of Jerusalem "when he had come nigh unto the city", perhaps the single most important statement by Jesus in the gospels:
(Luke 19:41-44)
JESUS: (weeping): If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! but they are hidden from thine eyes. Truly, the days are coming when thine enemies shall build a bank around thee, and compass thee round, and dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee, and they shall leave in thee not one stone upon another, because thou didst not know the time of thy visitation.

Is this a prediction of the last judgment? or of the coming of the kingdom of God? No, no, the only reasonable interpretation of this grim prediction is that he foresees that Jewish intransigence will ultimately goad the Romans into destroying Jerusalem completely. It is tragic that his words were not heeded; it is more tragic still that his mission and his teachings were completely misunderstood after his death. "Thy visitation" refers of course to his prophetic career of preaching to try to stave off the disaster. The probability of this being an actual statement by Jesus is too great to be denied, the more so when you recall the earlier exclamation about Jerusalem killing the prophets, and finally one more lamentation we shall hear on his way to be executed.
Matthew ends this day with a description of the crowd's response to his arrival at Jerusalem:
        And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, Who is this? And the multitudes said, This is the prophet, Jesus, from northward in Galilee.

This unforced unequivocal reference to Jesus as a "prophet" is proof that in his own career he was known as a prophet, and not as some kind of messiah or coming king. Mark ends this day with the report that he "looked around at all things", and then went back to Bethany to stay for the night. (Mark 11:11)


Next morning they went back into Jerusalem, and Mark tells us that on the way Jesus looked for figs on a fig tree by the roadside, and finding no figs, Mark says Jesus cursed the tree with barrenness forever. That's too fanciful a report to accept; it makes no sense because it was not the season of figs, and it represents an irrational response attributed to Jesus, which seems unlikely at best (Mark 11:12-14).
After entering Jerusalem for the second time, they went into the temple, all three tell us, and Jesus began to drive out the merchants who were in the courtyard selling sacrificial animals and cakes for visitors to sacrifice at the altar. He overturned the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of those that sold, and finally, Mark says he would not let anyone carry any vessel through the temple (Mk.11:16). And all three ascribe to him on this occasion one of his most famous statements:
(Mark 11:15-18;Luke 19:45-48;Matt.21:12-16)
JESUS: Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations; but you have made it into a den of robbers! (Isa. 56:7;Jer. 7:11)

Once again Jesus quotes from the Old Testament, showing how well he knew the prophets. The gospel of John misreports this statement, telling us that he said that God was his own father: "Make not MY father's house a place of merchandise" (John 2:16). But the citations from Isaiah and Jeremiah as told by Mark, Luke, and Matthew are appropriate and correct, and we can not doubt that those were the words that Jesus actually spoke.
Mark concludes the story by telling how the chief priests and the elders "sought how they might destroy him", because the crowds were so aroused by his teaching. Matthew adds that when they complained to Jesus about the acclamations he was receiving from the crowds, he quotes from the Psalms: "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou has spoken praise" (Ps.8:2). Then Jesus and the disciples went out of the temple again, and then they all went back to Bethany for another night.


On the next morning we are told that the disciples saw that the fig tree which Jesus had cursed the previous morning had withered away. They told Jesus, who replied:
(Mark 11:22-24;Matt.21:21-22)
JESUS: Have faith in God; and I tell you truly, if you say to this mountain, Be thou taken up, and cast into the sea, and do not doubt in your heart, but believe that it shall come to pass, you shall have it.
        Therefore I say unto you, whatsoever things you pray for, believe that you shall have received them, and you shall have them.

This is incredible, if he actually said it. There is no doubt that if you have vision and energy and faith and confidence, you can achieve remarkable things; but making a mountain jump into the sea? This teaching must have become distorted in some way. Jesus goes on to speak about forgiveness:
(Mark 11:25;Matt.6:14,15)
JESUS: And whenever you are praying, forgive anyone that you have any anger or a grudge toward; so that God your Father will forgive all your misdeeds and failures to practice God's laws.

This is similar to his related teaching about forgiving unto seven times, as reported in chapter VIII, Matt.18:21-22. Here he doesn't say anything about how many times; just always forgive. Don't let your angers and grudges be like a millstone around your neck, to use an image he has used earlier.


When they arrived back at the temple the next day, he was confronted by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, who demanded to know his authority for his actions, and another little dialogue ensued:
(Mark 11:27-33;Luke 20:1-8;Matt.21:23-27)
RULERS: (truculently) By what authority do you do all these things?

JESUS: I'll ask you one question also, and if you answer me, then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. The authority of John the Baptizer: was it from God, or was it from man?

RULERS (whispering to each other): If we say, From God, then he will say, Then why didn't you believe him? But if we say, From man, this crowd will tear us to pieces, because every last one of them believes John was a prophet. Better say, We don't know. (Aloud to Jesus) We do not know.

JESUS: Then neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

Perhaps this is Jesus' cleverest answer in the gospels. But if he believed he was from God, this was his chance to say so; and even if he believed that his authority came from John the Baptizer or from the Essenes or some other teacher, this was his chance to say so. This little event, reported by Mark, Matthew, and Luke in almost the same words, proves that the gospel of John's picture of Jesus as saying he was the Messiah, and Son of God and the door of the sheep and the bread from heaven and whoever believed that would be saved, is inaccurate, if not an outright invention.


Matthew tells a parable here, not found in Mark or Luke, which we can assume was from document M. It is about a father with two sons, whom he told to do some work around the farm:
JESUS: A man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in the vineyard. And the son said, I will not; but afterward, he was sorry he had refused, so he went and worked.
        Then the man came to his second son, and told him also to go and work. And the second son said, I will, sir; but he didn't go. Now then, which of these two sons did the will of his father?

RULERS: The first son.

JESUS: Therefore I say unto you, The publicans and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came teaching righteousness, and you did not believe him; but the publicans and harlots believed him; but you, when you saw it, did not even repent of your refusal to believe, but continued in your own ways.

Pretty straightforward, if a little puzzling at first glance. But the priests must have taken this as a real slap in the face. And Jesus confirms here his belief that John was one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. He goes on with another parable, found in Luke and Matthew as well as in Mark:
(Mark 12:1-9;Luke 20:9-16;Matt.21:33-41)
JESUS: A man planted a vineyard; and planted a hedge around it, and excavated a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. And then he rented it to some tenants, and went to another country on business.
        By and by, he sent to the leaseholders a servant, to receive from them the fruits of the vineyard. And they took the servant, and beat him, and sent him away empty.
        So the owner sent another servant; and they beat him too and wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. He sent yet another servant; and the renters killed him; and he sent still others, all of whom were beaten and some were killed.
        Then finally the owner sent his own son, whom he loved, thinking, They will certainly respect my son. But the renters said to themselves, This is the heir; let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours. So they grabbed him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
        What then will the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants, and will give the vineyard to others.

PRIESTS (to each other): He is speaking against us; but we dare not seize him while this crowd is here.

This is another parable which doesn't seem to be about the kingdom of God. He seems to be comparing the priests to tenants who are treating the messengers from God with violence, and predicting their fate: they will lose the nation because of their behavior. He concludes with a quotation the 118th Psalm:
(Mark 12:10-12;Luke 17-19;Matt.42-46)
JESUS: Haven't you even read this scripture from the Psalms:
                The stone which the builders rejected,
                The same has become the head of the corner.

Then the elders were even more enraged, for they could see that he spoke the parable against them; but they were still afraid of the crowd, so they left him, and went away.

So what is it that Jesus thinks that they should do? Stop persecuting the prophets, surely; and listen to him, as well. Up until now he has painted idyllic pictures of farmers planting seeds which grow in quiet and mustard seeds which grow large enough to shelter the birds; but now they have taken on the thundering quality of John the Baptizer in predicting the "wrath to come" and the axe laid to the root of the trees.

Matthew inserts at this point the parable about the marriage feast, where a master of a house gives a feast and when all of his invited guests decline to come, the master grows angry and invites all the commoners to the feast instead. Since we discussed it at the point that it is recorded in document P we will not review it here, although we cannot be sure of its meaning in the context of attaining the kingdom of God.


The next report from Mark, Matthew, and Luke is how some of the Pharisees, after having gotten together with some of the Herodians, came to Jesus with another trick question, hoping to trap him into a statement that he could be arrested for.
(Mark 12:13-17;Luke 20:20-26;Matt.22:15-22)
PHARISEES (flatteringly): Master, we know that you are a truthful person, and that you bow and scrape to no one; for you are not influenced by any man, but you follow and teach the way of God. So we should like to know: is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? shall we give, or not give?

JESUS: Why are you trying to ensnare me? Show me the tribute money.

(They bring him a coin.)

JESUS (holding up the coin so they can see it): Whose is this image and name on this coin?

PHARISEES: Tiberius, the Roman emperor, of course.

JESUS: Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's.

And the report is that they "marvelled" at his cleverness in turning aside their ploy. But we can ask, is this really an answer? It is perhaps Jesus' most famous riposte; but it can be interpreted both ways: as supporting the payment of tribute, or as denying the payment of tribute, on the grounds that all belongs to God.


Then certain of the Sadducees, who were also of the priestly class, came to him with a riddle, hoping to obfuscate and frustrate his popularity. The doctrine of an afterlife was very much in the air at that time; the Pharisees taught that yes, there was life after death, Sheol was not just a burial place for souls as well as bodies. But the Sadducees denounced the belief, saying that there was no ground for it in scripture. And they were also very clever; they posed to Jesus one of their paradoxes which were intended to refute the belief in the resurrection. Here is what they said:
(Mark 12:18-23;Luke 20:27-33;Matt.22:23-28)
SADDUCEES: Moses wrote to us, If a man die, and leave a wife behind him, but no children, that man's brother should marry the wife, so that the man's line may be continued with his brother's progeny.
        Now once there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife, but died without issue; and the second took her to wife, but also died, leaving no children; then the third; and the rest; and none of them left any seed. Finally the woman herself died, having been wife to all the seven brothers.
        Now we ask you, in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of them?

Earlier he has said categorically that if you marry a woman who has been the wife of another man, that is adultery. This seems to be a Torah-sanctioned exception to that rule. But here Jesus answers, in one of his more theological statements:
(Mark 12:24-27;Luke 20:34-40;Matt.22:29-33)
JESUS: Is not this the reason that you make such an error, that you do not know your own scriptures, nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage.
        And have you not read in the book of Moses, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac; and the God of Jacob? I tell you, God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; so you are in error in your approach to the question.

His reasoning regarding the absence of marriage in an afterlife may not be convincing to us, but it is his reference to the fact that it is we, the living, who need to be concerned with how we live and love, which is of importance. So he confounds their conundrum with another conundrum.


Now Mark, copied by Matthew, tell us that there was a scribe who approved of his answer, and asked Jesus another question, as related in the following dialogue:
(Mark 12:28-34;Matt.22:34-40)
SCRIBE: What is the most important commandment?

JESUS: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. And the second is, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There are no other commandments greater than these. (Deut.6:5;Num.19:18)

SCRIBE: Master, you have well said; for to practice these commandments is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

JESUS: You are not far from the reign of God.

Jesus' answer is the same as the scribe had given in Samaria on the occasion of the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf.Luke 10:25-28), and also the same as he quoted from Hosea to his critics on the occasion of calling Matthew to be a disciple (Matt.9:13;12:7; Hos.6:6). His final sentence perhaps summarizes the point of all religion: There is NO OTHER commandment greater than these. Not sacrifices, not fasting, nor sabbath rules, nor handwashing, nor cupwashing, nor tithing, nor even following him, are as important as these two commandments given in the Torah, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Numbers 19:18, and reiterated over and over by the great Hebrew prophets of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E.
Mark sums up the interchange by saying that after that there was no one who had the nerve to ask him any more questions.


Now Jesus confronts the Pharisees with his own riddle. To us it may sound like a sophistry: he asks them about the concept of the messiah, the expected king who was to liberate the nation, and about whom it was also said that he would be a descendant of David, because of a verse in the second book of the Kings, which said that David's descendants would rule perpetually over Judah. He asks his questioners:
(Mark 12:35-37a;Luke 20:41-44;Matt.22:23-33)
JESUS: How can you say that the messiah is the son of David? Doesn't David himself say in the Psalms:
        The Lord said unto my Lord,
        Please sit upon my right hand,
        Till I make your enemies
              the footstool of your feet. (Ps.110:1)
Thus David calls the coming king, My Lord; how can he then be his son?

No response from the religious leaders is reported; but perhaps Solomon himself couldn't have unravelled this riddle. The first "Lord" refers to Yahweh, and rabbinic teachings have construed the second "Lord" to mean either David himself or the coming messiah. But even if an ancestor couldn't refer to a descendant as "my Lord", it is not clear that this proves anything at all. Perhaps he is proclaiming that any person might be the messiah, not merely a descendant of David. Indeed, Mark reports that the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37b). He was offending the leaders, but he had won the hearts of the people for standing up against the rigidity of the Pharisees and the unconcern of the priests over their welfare.


We have been following the story of Jesus as it is related in the gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew. As we said in chapter I, the gospel of John does not appear to be a reliable source, because of its differences in chronology, the content of his discourses, and the reports of the healings. But there is one event in the gospel of John that is probably authentic; it is absent from most of the ancient manuscripts of John, and in some ancient texts it is found in the gospel of Luke instead. Nor do the manuscripts agree among themselves in the telling of this episode. It is the story of the woman taken in adultery and brought to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees, to find out if he would support the stoning of the woman according to Mosaic law. Here is the dialogue:
(John 8:1-11)
PHARISEES: Master, this woman was taken in adultery; she was caught in the very act. Now Moses commanded that we should stone to death anyone who was guilty of such a sin. What do YOU say?

JESUS (saying nothing, but, stooping down and writing on the ground with his finger.): (silence)

PHARISEES (after a silence): Come on, tell us, what do you say?

JESUS (looking up): He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. (He looks down again)

(They leave one by one without saying anything)

JESUS: (looking up again): Woman, where are your accusers? Didn't anyone condemn you?

WOMAN: No one, Rabbi.

JESUS: Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not fall prey to their lust anymore.

So Jesus forestalls the dreadful fate expected by the woman, shows the Pharisees to be the hypocrites they are, and makes it impossible to believe that he judged or will judge anyone for technical sins of the flesh. This story was probably handed down by word of mouth for a century or two after his death, and some of the writers and copyists of the gospels inserted the tale because they had heard it and it sounded authentic to them, as it surely must sound to us.