Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Experts In The Law (part 8)

The next instance of the use of this key phrase is found in the nineteenth chapter of Luke.  In the forty-seventh verse, Luke writes that “Jesus was teaching daily in the Temple courts,” and that “The chief priests and the experts in the law and the prominent leaders among the people were seeking to assassinate Him.”  This will be followed up at the beginning of the twentieth chapter with “as Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple courts and proclaiming the Gospel, the chief priests and the experts in the law with the elders came up and said to Him, ‘Tell us, By what authority are you doing these things?  Or who is it who gave you this authority?’” (20:1-2) 

Predictably, maintaining the rabbinic challenge motif that Luke seems to have carefully sought to build through his narrative, and yielding no ground in the perpetual contest of honor and shame, Jesus answers the questions with a question of His own, related to John the Baptist (it seems that Luke intends to demonstrate the explicit connection between Jesus’ ministry and that of John), eventually eliciting an embarrassing and honor-sacrificing “we don’t know” from His interrogators. 

Before the mentions of the experts in the law that close out and open the nineteenth and twentieth chapters respectively, it is reported that “Jesus entered the Temple courts and began to drive out those who were selling things there, saying to them, ‘It is written, “My house will be a house of prayer,” but you have turned it into a den of robbers!’” (19:45-46)  Thus, with this stirring reminder of the words of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah (which would not have been lost on those who witnessed the incident or those who would hear about the incident from Luke and others), Jesus, with the full weight of His increasingly messianic life-path providing support, enacts a symbolic judgment against the Temple (as did Jeremiah). 

The people who hear these words of Jesus will know and potentially call to mind that Jeremiah went on to announce, presumably on behalf of Israel’s God, “I will destroy this Temple which I have claimed as My own, this Temple that you are trusting to protect you.  I will destroy this place that I gave to you and your ancestors” (Jeremiah 7:14).  Coming from the one that has been successfully challenging and meeting any and all challenges from the representatives of the Temple and of the Temple tradition at every turn, these are weighty words in deed. 

Those listening to Luke’s presentation, who are also aware, as would be the modern reader, of the way that the story proceeds, know that this is going to provoke a response by the very ones whose authority and legitimacy is being challenged.  Concordantly then, any mentions of the experts in the law, going forward, will carry with it this symbolic judgment of the Temple.  After reporting that Jesus has said these things, Luke writes that “Jesus was teaching daily in the Temple courts” (19:47a).  This would only be natural, in that if He has pronounced judgment on the Temple, and if He does indeed believe Himself to be the new Temple (the place at which the Creator God dwells/the place of the coming together of heaven as the realm of the Creator God and earth as the realm of the those created and put in place as the image of the Creator God), then Jesus is quite naturally going to locate Himself at the place where the legitimate Temple is to be found. 

Now it is much easier to understand why it is that “The chief priests and the experts in the law and the prominent leaders among the people were seeking to assassinate Him” (19:47b).  Luke is explicitly linking Jesus’ pronouncement as king (by the enthralled masses) and His judgment against the Temple with the desire for His assassination by those that represented the Temple’s power structure.  This most definitely feeds into the negative portrait of the experts in the law, which will also serve to heavily inform a statement that is soon to come, and which will be sure to draw the desired response from his hearers.    

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