Friday, December 20, 2013

Experts In The Law (part 10)

For good measure, before reaching a seminal usage of the phrase, Luke once again makes a point to call attention to what he insists is the nefarious desire of the experts in the law, as in the nineteenth verse of chapter twenty, after Jesus has delivered yet another parable that is deemed to be yet another scathing rebuke of these antagonistic characters, Luke reports: “Then the experts in the law and the chief priests wanted to arrest Him that very hour, because they realized He had told this parable against them” (20:19a).  After this, Luke presents the story of Jesus being questioned about paying taxes to Caesar (20:20-26).  This is followed by a strange bit of questioning from the Sadducees in regards to marriage and the resurrection (20:27-40). 

It can be here noted, with great interest, that the Sadducees now make their lone appearance in Luke’s Gospel.  This occurs after the Pharisees have dropped out of view.  Looking to Acts, where Luke reports that some members of the Pharisees have joined with the Christian community, there one finds conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the twenty-third chapter (in relation to Paul’s trial), in which the Pharisees (believers in the resurrection of the dead) are pitted against the Sadducees (“who contend that there is no resurrection” (20:27) – repeated in Acts 23:8).  In addition to the fact that Luke, in the second portion of his narrative, cannot simply have the Sadducees appearing out of nowhere but needs to have them in conflict with Jesus, the previous excursus and possible conclusion in regards to the situation with the Pharisees and their disappearance from Luke’s narrative may also serve to explain Luke’s cursory mention of the Sadducees.

Moving along then, Jesus then goes into a dissertation, with this followed by a question, about the Messiah being both King David’s son and Lord (20:41-44).  This is followed by Jesus’ warning to “Beware of the experts in the law” (20:46a).  This comes on the heels of what looked like it could have been a paradigm shift in Luke’s presentation of the experts in the law.  After Jesus had answered the questioning of the Sadducees, flatly rebuking their resurrection-denying position in the process, Luke reports that “some of the experts in the law answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well!’” (20:39).  Luke also reports that “they did not dare any longer to ask Him anything” (20:40), though this could easily apply equally to both the Sadducees and the experts in the law. 

Those who comprise the initial and ongoing audience of this story, who are presumably at least somewhat familiar with the Jesus traditions, already know what is soon to happen.  Indeed, those that may be unfamiliar with Jesus, who are hearing or reading this presentation for the first time, owing to the heightening sense of conflict that is sparked by Jesus’ actions in the Temple (the tremendous importance of which would be readily recognized by any denizen of the first century---or any century in almost any place for that matter), will more than realize that this story is building to a grand finale. 

Throughout the story, lines of demarcation are being drawn.  By this point, it is quite clear as to who it is that is going to ultimately be playing the role of villain in this story.  Any reasonable person knows that the experts in the law have been positioned as the chief villains, and it merely remains to be seen how Luke’s telling of the Jesus story will play out.  The potential paradigm shift comes with this report about the words of the experts in the law.  It provides something of a ray of hope for them.  This, along with the fact that the Pharisees are no longer the consistent companions of the experts in the law, with their role having been almost completely taken up by the chief priests, might cause one to think that the experts in the law are going to change their position concerning Jesus.  Accordingly, perhaps Jesus will change His position concerning them. 

Of course this is not to be.  After a glimmer of hope appears for them, that light is quickly extinguished as Jesus warns the people away from them.  This should not be unexpected.  Not only have they been well-positioned as the villains of Luke’s narrative, as one can easily imagine boos and hisses from the crowd whenever they make their appearance on the stage of the story, but after all of the potential villainy that has been seen and heard, Jesus adds that “They like walking around in long robes, and they love elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets” (20:46).  

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