Matthew – Sectarian Challenges

March 22, 2010

In Jerusalem, Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees, who send their disciples and some Herodians to see Jesus. These disciples ask Jesus if it lawful to pay taxes in an attempt to ensnare Jesus, knowing that He will lose popular support if He pulls His punches and favors taxes and that the Herodians will take offense if He does not. Jesus tells them that civil authority has its place, but that the affairs of God take precedence.

The Sadducees later confronted Jesus on the matter of the Resurrection of the Body, which is strongly expounded in the New Testament. They present an implausible case of a woman who is widowed seven times and remains childless. Whose wife would she be in the Resurrection? Jesus tells them that there is no marriage in Heaven and that the Resurrection must be accurate, since God is the God of the living, and those who have died are still described in the present tense in the book of Exodus.

The Pharisees send in another to challenge Jesus: what commandment is greatest? Jesus responds that the first is ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and the second is ”You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The implication is that you cannot love God unless you love your neighbor. Both of these are part of the Jewish tradition, but after this, the two are very commonly linked.

Jesus then asks the Pharisees whose son the Messiah is. When they answer that he is David’s son, Jesus asks them why David calls the Messiah ”Lord” if a father would not call his son “Lord.” The Pharisees leave and do not dare to ask Jesus any more questions.

Jesus then speaks out against those who would claim titles like rabbi, teacher, or father for themselves. Some of these people lay burdens on others but do not act to move their own burdens. These have turned the law into a system of punishment, turned the things of devotion to God into things of ostentation, and turned gifts of God into personal aggrandizement. This is a strong argument against a certain type of clericalism, but it should not be considered the end of clerics. Indeed, there are clear examples of teachers and fathers in the Scriptures. Instead, all the teaching is the teaching of God and should be identified as such.

Jesus then lists several woes for the Pharisees. The Pharisees are locking people out of Heaven, stop others from going into Heaven, and the converts that they attract are twice the children of Hell than the Pharisees. Those who swear oaths liberally will be held liable to God. Those who obey the minutiae of the law or purify the visible but ignore the weightier matters or fail to purify the inner structures are ignoring what is truly important.

The closing theme is Gerard Satamian’s Chansons Sans Paroles Op. 2 Pastorale, from the album Dry Fig Trees. www.magnatune.com

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