Monday, January 30, 2012

Parables Of A Judged Temple (part 2 of 2)

After telling the parables of the two sons and the tenants, with Matthew having interjected Jesus’ thoughts concerning the kingdom of God, and letting his audience know that “the chief priests and the Pharisees… realized that He was speaking about them” (21:45), we hear Jesus moving on to His next parable, which is that of the wedding banquet.  Having suggested that the kingdom of God, with its Temple-related connotations, was going to be taken from those that represented the Temple and its regime, this parable begins with “The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” (22:2).  This parable, which shares similar features to the parable of the tenants, concludes with the king saying “For many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14). 

Though much can be made of this parable, and though there are obviously a great number of avenues of exploration that could be traveled (king and son and messianic understanding to say the least), as we are dealing with the issue of the Temple, with the Temple serving as the backdrop, suffice it to say that the connection between the kingdom of God being taken away from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and the kingdom of heaven being limited to those that have been chosen for it, is rather obvious.  Let us be careful to not exhume this statement about many being called and few being chosen from out of the ground in which it has been placed.  This is not an isolated statement, nor an isolated parable, from which one can construct a theology of predestination or limited atonement.  Rather, this is a statement and a parable dealing with the Temple and those that represent that Temple, as Jesus builds on His previously enacted judgment of that Temple and those that run it.  Along with the setting and the audience, Jesus’ subject of concern is unchanged.  This is not lost on Jesus’ intended audience, as Matthew moves immediately to tell us that “Then the Pharisees went out and planned together to entrap Him with His own words” (22:15). 

The Pharisees proffer a question about the paying of taxes to Caesar.  This cannot be disconnected from Jesus’ triumphal entry---an event which would have stirred revolutionary notions.  Taxes and revolution go hand in hand, and Jesus’ opinion in this area would have been used to great effect.  Also, it seems to function as an attempt to distract Jesus from His main concern, which is the judged Temple and its judged functionaries.  However, we hear Jesus’ words with the Temple as a sounding board, and perhaps even hear a critical rebuke of His interrogators when He says to “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (22:21b).

The Pharisees are stunned by Jesus answer, departing from Him only to be replaced by some Sadducees, who have made limited appearances to this point.  In fact, until now they have been rather marginal characters in the story.  They have been mentioned by John the Baptist in the third chapter and by Jesus in the sixteenth chapter, but only in pairings with the Pharisees (though the two groups had major disagreements).  Mark and Luke make no mention of them at all up until this same point, and they are completely absent from the Gospel of John.  They do have a presence in Acts, in connection with Peter and John’s arrest at the Temple and in connection with Paul’s arrest, which also took place at the Temple (a fact that should not be lost on us as we are dealing with the issue of the Temple).  These may be useful bits of information, as even though Acts was composed after Luke, the stories of Peter, John, and Paul’s arrest at the Temple, along with the “trials” that took place in connection with those arrests (all of which were carried out by the Temple authorities) were probably fairly well known to the early Christian community.  If this is the case, it is possible to presume that these stories that included the Sadducees would have been known to the respective audiences of the Gospels, because just as Israel defined itself by its history and the stories that they told about themselves that had the oppression of Egypt and the exodus as foundational, so too would the early Christian community seek to define itself, in strong Jewish fashion, by telling its own stories of oppression and deliverance.  It is not a stretch to consider the possibility that this type of thing was already taking place in the community for which Matthew primarily composed his Gospel, especially when we are able to see Herod as a new Pharaoh, ordering the death of children, which is unique to the Matthean narrative. 

So even though this is the first time that the Sadducees are going to speak, they are a group that is known to the community.  The Gospel authors make it a point to share some basic information about this group, informing (reminding) their audiences that the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection (in reference to the belief in the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the present age).  Obviously, this editorial comment carries significant weight for a post-Resurrection audience, and it would be a major point of contention for those that are claiming Jesus as their risen Lord.  Clearly, there is no respect whatsoever for the Sadducees, as they are almost comically presented, asking Jesus a ridiculously framed question about marriage in the resurrection (seven brothers, all having married the same woman, and all of which died---though there may be a mild allusion to the seven brothers of the Maccabean histories, who certainly hoped for a resurrection).  This is indeed something of a comical presentation, for if they did not believe in the concept of resurrection, then this question would be illogical for them to ask.  Jesus’ response indicates His (and the church community’s) opinion of the Sadducees, as He says “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God” (22:29)  Mark adds (Matthew subtracting), “You are badly mistaken!” (12:27b)  The bottom line, when we consider this interaction with the Sadducees, is that they are connected to the Temple (as demonstrated by Acts), and represented some level of authority.  Silencing them, as Jesus is said to do with His answer (22:34), serves to discredit them and weaken their position, thus extending His judgment against the Temple.    

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