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.
RENDER UNTO CAESAR
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
(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.
MARRIAGE IN THE AFTERLIFE
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.
THE GREATEST COMMANDMENTS
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:
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;
). 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
Mark sums up the interchange by saying that after that there
was no one who had the nerve to ask him any more questions.
WHOSE SON IS THE MESSIAH
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.
THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN
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:
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.