Thursday, December 12, 2013

Experts In The Law (part 2)

Shortly thereafter, the experts in the law are again encountered, as Luke reports that “the Pharisees and their experts in the law complained to His disciples, saying ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’” (5:30)  On the heels of Jesus presenting Himself as a viable alternative, and indeed even a replacement for the Temple as He also presents Himself as a messiah-figure with all of the expectations that come with such a presentation, this criticism of actions in relation to Jesus’ table fellowship is offered. 

The statement that follows Jesus’ response, which was “John’s disciples frequently fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours continue to eat and drink” (5:33), is also critical of Jesus’ meal practice and His influence, and is a part of the preliminary efforts to discredit this man who seems to be gaining a problematic standing amongst the people (in the eyes of their leaders).  This, at least, is what Luke appears to be making an effort to portray. 

Moving on to the sixth chapter, the seventh verse states that “The experts in the law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely to see if He would heal on the Sabbath, so that they could find a reason to accuse Him.”  In the twenty-first verse of the fifth chapter, Luke reports what the experts in the law, along with the Pharisees, were thinking.  In the thirtieth and thirty-third verses, voice is given to their thoughts, and Luke records what are essentially rabbinic challenges through which the experts in the law and the Pharisees seek to gain the upper hand on Jesus in what is going to be an ongoing activity of thrust and parry throughout the course of Luke’s Gospel, between Jesus and those who challenged Him. 

Now, with these words from early in the sixth chapter, Luke has moved his hearers from an implied understanding of a desire to discredit Jesus through the common and well-understood means of rabbinic challenge (part of the ongoing honor competition), to an open effort to find a basis for accusation against Him.  This is amplified by Luke’s report that, following Jesus’ response challenge to them and His subsequent healing on the Sabbath, and what appears to be Jesus’ victory in the eyes of the people in this particular challenge (based on the response that Luke records), that “they were filled with mindless rage and began debating with one another what they would do to Jesus” (6:11).  

The ninth chapter sees the next use of the phrase.  This time, it is on the lips of Jesus, as He is heard saying “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (9:22).  This comes on the heels of Jesus proffering two questions to His disciples, which were “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (9:18b) and “who do you say that I am?” (9:20a), along with Peter’s response of “The Christ of God” (9:20b). 

Peter’s response is better translated as “the Messiah of God,” which, based upon the myriad of beliefs concerning what it is that the messiah would do, included (based on the way that previous messianic claimants had gone about their business) the throwing off of Rome’s yoke.  Peter’s confession is a highly charged political statement.  Owing to that, widespread and public voicing of the claim could lead to an open and premature conflict with the governing Roman authorities.

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