This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on October 22, 2017.
This passage marks the beginning of a series of litmus tests meant not to test Jesus’ alkalinity or acidity but his legitimacy as a leader, or lack thereof. The question about paying taxes to Rome is the first of three such litmus testing questions. The second is the Sadducees’ question about the resurrection (they didn’t even believe in the resurrection), and the third is the Pharisees question about the greatest commandment, which he answers masterfully and then follows with a fourth question of his own. We’ll get to that next week. For now, it’s important to read this as the beginning of a series of Matthean moments where we’re meant to see what Jesus is made of when confronted by and compared to the respected Jewish authorities who would later be responsible for his arrest and trial.
Jesus’ inquisitors indicate Jesus’ essence before even giving him a chance to answer the first question. “Teacher,” they said. “We know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others because you pay no attention to who they are. (vs. 16) The disciples of the Pharisees (not the Pharisees – they first sent students to do their dirty work) do not believe Jesus is actually a person of integrity. This questioning is actually meant to reveal that and discredit him. Ironically, however, these inquisitors have both revealed their intent and set us up to observe the true integrity on display. What happens when someone confronts a person of the highest integrity with malicious intent? In this case, the person of integrity confronts them right back. Continue reading →
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on March 6, 2016.
The narrative of the prodigal son is certainly one of the most well-known parables in the gospels. We may be tempted to begin the reading in verse eleven, but there is good reason to commence with verse one. The passage opens by stating that tax collectors and sinners were coming to listen to Jesus. According to the Pharisees and scribes, he welcomed them and even shared meals with them. Collecting taxes and tariffs was considered dishonorable work, and those employed in this profession were known to take more than the mandated fees.
The sinners described in the passage were probably apostate Jews who were regularly breaking religious laws. We do not learn the specific nature of their sins, but those tasked with religious leadership were evidently appalled by Jesus’ willingness to mix with this class of people. They grumbled about Jesus’ actions, something that they had done before (Luke 5:29-30). Pharisees and scribes worked diligently to maintain their religious and cultural status. In contrast, Jesus had a history of upending the religious system by associating with outcasts and inviting them to repent (Luke 5:31-32). Jesus’ compassion continues to raise questions today about the identities of religious outcasts and the hospitality they ought to receive.
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on February 21, 2016.
In the previous passage, we find Jesus making his way to Jerusalem, teaching about the kingdom of God and curing many illnesses as he passes through villages and towns. While some choose to follow him, delighting in his works and praising God, not all welcome him warmly. Cold and calculating responses to Jesus’ presence intensify as he arrives in Jerusalem. In fact, verse 31 opens with a very serious warning. A group of Pharisees come to Jesus and urge him to leave the city because Herod is seeking to kill him. This is no idle threat. Herod is a powerful political figure who has already shown his penchant for violence in the imprisonment and beheading of John (Luke 3:19-20; 9:9). Luke confirms that Herod has heard the perplexing reports about Jesus’ miracles and those of his followers, and he has been seeking an opportunity to see Jesus for himself (Luke 9:7-9). According to this group of Pharisees, Herod’s curiosity has taken a dark turn. Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem and his very life are now at stake. This kind of ministerial success does not come without significant opposition and even the possibility of death.
Luke’s account of the events gives no information about Herod’s motives or those of the Pharisees who warn Jesus. Instead the author focuses on the nature of Jesus’ response to the aggressor. Rather than heed the warning and make preparations to flee as most would be tempted to do, Jesus faces the threat head on. He speaks confidently, sending Herod the message that he will continue battling evil and bringing healing until he reaches his intended goal. While Herod may act like a fox, he is not a true obstacle to Jesus’ ministry. According to rabbinic resources, a fox may be described as a pretender or a weakling. Jesus could be suggesting here that Herod does not have what it takes to follow through on his plans. We get the message that no earthly power or personage will thwart the purposes of God that Jesus was anointed to accomplish (Luke 4:17-19).