Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Challenges, A Psalm, A Widow & A Judged Temple (part 1 of 3)

In chapter twelve of Mark, Jesus says, “How is it that the experts in the law say that the Christ is David’s son?  David himself, by the Holy Spirit, said, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at My right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  If David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” (12:35b-37a)  Luke’s record is essentially identical to Mark’s, whereas prior to Jesus’ longer statement, Matthew reports that “Jesus asked them a question: ‘What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?’  They said, ‘The son of David” (22:42).  Following Jesus’ words, Mark reports that “the large crowd was listening to Him with delight” (12:37b), and Matthew says that “No one was able to answer Him a word, and from that day on no one dared to question Him any longer” (22:46), while Luke offers no editorial comment.

As we have seen before and made abundantly clear, though Jesus is obviously offering a question that, according to the Gospel records, goes unanswered (thus, in the mold of rabbinic challenges in an honor and shame culture, asserting His final and unchallenged authority as a teacher), there is more than meets the eye (or ear).  This quotation by Jesus, lifted from the one hundred tenth Psalm, is designed to call to mind the entirety of the Psalm (as we should well understand).  Jesus, standing on the Temple mount, which is generally and idealistically referred to as Mount Zion (though the Zion mount may not have been the actual site of the Temple), quotes from a Psalm that says, “here is the Lord’s proclamation to my lord: ‘Sit down at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!’  The Lord extends your dominion from Zion.  Rule in the midst of your enemies!  Your people willingly follow you when you go into battle.  On the holy hills at sunrise the dew of your youth belongs to you.  The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it: ‘You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek.’  O sovereign Lord, at your right hand he strikes down kings in the day he unleashes His anger.  He executes judgment against the nations; He fills the valley with corpses; He shatters their heads over the vast battlefield.  From the stream along the road he drinks; then he lifts up his head” (110:1-7). 

Though Jesus frames the desired response with His follow-up question, He and the Gospel authors are undoubtedly communicating a great deal of information.  In this Psalm, not only is there talk of Zion, which is quickly translated into Temple-talk, especially with Jesus standing in the Temple while speaking, but there is also talk of an eternal priesthood occurring in the place where there were constant priestly functions occurring.  With the quotation from the Psalms potentially calling to mind a mention of Melchizedek and an eternal priesthood, it also calls to mind a replacement priesthood---a bold move, considering Jesus’ location. 

Is it reasonable to make such a suggestion?  It seems to be so, especially when Mark and Luke do not follow-up with a theological and philosophical elaboration on what Jesus meant by His questions, but rather, report Him as saying “Watch out for the experts in the law.  They like walking around in long robes and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers.  These men will receive a more severe punishment” (Mark 12:38b-40).  Luke’s record is nearly identical.  Are the enemies the experts in the law, as stand-ins for the Temple authorities?  When Jesus mentions a more severe punishment, is He speaking in generalities, or does He have something in mind?  If it is something in mind, we might ask “A more severe punishment than what?”  Well, the striking down of kings, judgment against the nations, valleys filled with corpses, and heads shattered on battlefield seems to be fairly severe punishment, and the synoptic authors will be speaking of these things shortly.  Those that defile God’s Temple, and doing so through pretended service to His people (echoes of Jeremiah’s plaintive cry of judgment ringing through) will receive punishments of greater severity. 

To make the point about the devouring of widow’s property, Mark and Luke speak nearly identically with what comes next.  Using Mark’s record, they report that Jesus “sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it.  Many rich people were throwing in large amounts” (12:41-42).  By this, they secure the presence of experts in the law at their synagogues and their banquets.  Continuing, Mark reports: “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny.  He called His disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others.  For they all gave out of their wealth.  But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had” (12:41-44).  Far from being a praise of this widow, though it is certainly not a criticism, these are words of lament.  They portend judgment, for her property had been devoured.  Indeed, judgment---a more severe punishment---is what is coming. 

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