Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Pentecost 20, October 26th 2014, Matthew 22:34-46, Mark 12:28-34, The Greatest Commandment,

Jesus has stunned the Sadducees earlier and shut them up! They Sadducees didn't know how to answer Jesus and he made them look foolish. So they did what bullies do and encountered him as a group, and one of  the Pharisees, a so called expert in the law put a question in order to test him, catch him out. The question is a theological question to Jesus regarding the grading of God's laws - which is the greatest commandment of the law?

Teacher or  Rabbi. "Which is the greatest commandment? Jesus is being baited into a discussion over the importance of the 613 biblical laws, and they are trying to catch him out and damage his credibility.  Bring him down with physical intimidation, as a group and psychological by undermining him publicly.

Jesus gives an answer, dividing the law into the first and second commandments. 
Love the Lord your God with everything you've got. 
Love your neighbour as yourself.  
For a Jew, a neighbour was other Jews and for many Christians this means a Christian neighbour. However the parable of the Good Samaritan shows us that our neighbour is everyone, which many Christians find unacceptable.

Jesus sums up his answer by pointing out that these two laws are pivotal-all the other laws hang from them, all the laws of Moses and the teachings of the prophets.

So this passage is the third of three questions put to Jesus by the religious authorities. Matthew has placed them in the context of Jesus' teaching ministry in the temple during the week before his arrest and crucifixion and his answers contributed to his arrest and death. Matthew's context implies that the question serves as yet another attempt to catch Jesus out, to test/tempt him. 

The gospel story is also about remembering.
The man who asks Jesus the question “What is the greatest commandment?” has been encouraged by Jesus. He has been told he is not far from the kingdom. But he was probably devastated because he thought he was saved. The story shows that the scribes have forgotten what is important and need to be reminded of that. Keeping the Jewish laws cannot save you. Keeping religious laws today cannot save you whether you are a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim. We are not saved by what we do!

Jesus answers the man by quoting the Shema, the great Jewish prayer (Deut.6:4) “The Lord your God is one God…
You shall love. Love is what is important. We must remember to love God.

And we must love our neighbour! Loving our neighbour means acting with compassion. Neighbour in Hebrew means fellow citizen or friend. Love even extends to the foreigner and traveler within our gates, our country (Asylum seekers, migrants) Many people feel anything but love to their neighbours and foreigners. But this is what Jesus calls us to do. Love, pray even for our enemies! 

Psychologically it would be difficult for a person to love others if they didn't first love themselves! You have to love yourself! Jesus reminds them of that too.
So Jesus reminds his hearers that the heart of the Law is , to love and be loved. We may be near to the kingdom.  Remembering who we are keeps us humble.


This passage prompts numerous questions:

1. What does it mean to love God?
2. Who is my neighbour"? For a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, everyone is our neighbour.
3. What does loving your neighbour mean?
4. What does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself"
5. How is love of God and love of our neighbour related? In theology is caring for broken humanity the same as loving God?
6.Are both commandments equally important, or is the first greater ?
7. In what sense does the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments?
8. Does the law of love dispense with / replace the Torah? The Torah outlines the practical details of love. God calls for a relationship puts the priority of love as primary within the law.
9. Are these two commandments laws to be done or ideals to be aimed at? In a sense, both intentions are present in the commands. On the one hand, these two commands summarize God's perfect law, demanding a righteousness beyond our doing. They remind us that our standing in the sight of God is not about obedience to laws. Its about faith in God.. 



Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Pentecost 19, October 19th 2014, Matthew 22v15-22, Mark 12v13-17, Luke 20v19-26, Render to Caesar.

Most people think this passage is about whether we should pay taxes. Its recorded in all the Synoptic gospels and the Gospel of Thomas. But did Jesus really mean they should financially support Tiberius Caesar – a pedophile and murderer an oppressive emperor who enslaved millions?

In 6 A.D., Roman occupiers of Palestine imposed a tax on the Jews. In 17 A.D Tacitus reports that the provinces of Syria and Judaea begged for a reduction of the tribute. There followed a tax revolt led by Judas the Galilean, who recognised only God's authority over Israel. The Romans responded brutally for decades. 

The undercurrent of this situation underpinned Jesus’ ministry. All the three synoptic Gospels put this story immediately after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. All three place the story near Passover. Passover remembers the Israelites deliverance from Egypt to the promised land which at the time of the story was occupied by the Romans. Thousands of Jews were in Jerusalem for Passover. 

Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea, was temporarily in Jerusalem to oversee affairs and stop political revolt. Pilate was a cruel and angry man. A few years before Jesus’ ministry, the images of Caesar nearly caused a riot in Jerusalem, when Pilate one night, erected effigies of the emperor on the fortress Antonia, adjoining the Jewish Temple. Jewish law forbad the creation of graven images and their introduction into holy city of Jerusalem. Pilate averted a bloodbath only by removing the images.
It is against this background that this story is told.

The question is designed to trap Jesus on this issue. It was a question of religious law but the Pharisees believed that only they could interpret Jewish law. They are trying to force Jesus to answer the question. If he doesnt answer he will lose credibility as a teacher. 
The question is whether it is lawful under the Torah to pay taxes to the Romans. 
If Jesus said it was lawful he would be seen as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers. If Jesus says that the tribute is unlawful he would be seen as a terrorist either way he would be killed!

Jesus sees the trap. He asked to see the coin, a denarius. It was worth a days wage for a labourer. The denarius gave financial stability. The denarius Jesus saw was issued by Tiberius, whose reign coincided with Jesus’ ministry. He issued three in his life time.  The third produced by his own mint paid his soldiers, officials, and suppliers and carried the imperial seal. It was used to pay the tribute. 

Tiberius’ denarii were minted in France at Lugdunum, Lyons, in Gaul. Its circulation in Judaea was scarce. The only people using it were soldiers, Roman officials, and Jewish leaders. The questioners’ produce the coin quickly.  This all took place in the Temple. It was a pagan symbol in a sacred space.

Jesus threw a counter-question, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They answered the Emperor.
When Jesus’ counter-question is asked and answered he answers the original question. "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s." 

In the Torah, everything belonged to God. By using the words, "image and inscription," Jesus reminded them that only God was owed allegiance and worship. Everything, even economics belonged to God. 

The emperor claimed that all people and things in the empire  belonged to Rome. The denarius indicated that the emperor demanded exclusive allegiance and Tiberius claimed to be the son of a god. The Roman occupation reminded everyone that Israel belonged to Rome and its economic life depended on the emperor. 

Jesus has shown that the claims of God and Caesar are mutually exclusive. If your faith is in God, then God is owed everything. Jesus’ response is politically seditious. His listeners knew what he was saying. 

 "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s," means that the emperor is owed nothing. 


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