Stroll through Scripture for Sunday March 3, 2024

Based on Mark 12:1-17

This week’s reading is full of direct conflict between Jesus and his detractors.  Jesus confronts the people who oppose him head on.  He doesn’t sugar coat it for them.  He doesn’t make excuses for their behavior either.  This is a confrontational set of verses.  And it should teach us a few things.  First, Jesus wasn’t interested in just being some kind of nice guy who avoids conflict.  He faces it when he needs to.  He doesn’t try to avoid it just because it’s uncomfortable.  

In the first section, Jesus tells a parable about the wicked tenants, which is really about the long line of religious people who have tried to highjack God’s way of doing things.  There’s a long history of God sending prophets to Israel, only to have them be killed by the religious people.  Let’s be clear about what this is really about.  There are some who have used religion for their own purposes.  There are some who use religion because it offers an opportunity to give a person a sense of control and power.  There are some who use religion as a means to exert that control over others in what they do, how they think, and how they use their resources.  The Temple was no exception to this in Jesus time.  The religious authorities worked with the Roman authorities in order to maintain their titles and positions and benefits, all at the expense of the people. When religious institutions cozy up to the state authorities, history has shown that it doesn’t work out well for the people.  In those cases, religion becomes abusive and just an extension of the state.  It loses sight of God and instead uses God.  It becomes the opposite of what it was created to be.  

Second lesson from these passages – Jesus deals with reality.  He’s not interested in the fluff of the Pharisees’ and Herodians’ greeting.  He can see past it.  He knows full well they don’t believe a single word they are uttering.  They are the type of people who will say one thing while believing the exact opposite.  Their creed comes down to the ends justify the means.  And he addresses them directly and clearly, turning the tables on their trap.  

In the second section Jesus’ opponents try to trap Jesus in several ways.  If Jesus pulled out a Roman coin (a denarius) then the Pharisees could claim that he practiced idolatry for having a graven image on his person.  Instead, it is his opponents who are able to produce a coin.  They try to trap him with a question that has no suitable answer for both sides and instead he turns the question on its head with his response that leaves his opponents speechless.  

In a way, Jesus deals with the confrontation and attempted trap in a unique way.  Instead of accepting the terms presented to him, he is essentially saying, “I don’t accept the premise of the debate.”  And he proceeds to change the rules on them.  They assume there are only two answers.  And Jesus knows that if he picks either answer, he falls into the trap.  So instead, he rejects both answers and inserts a third option.  His opponents are dead set on either/or thinking apparently and can’t handle dealing with a third option.  

But isn’t this what God does all the time?  The vast majority of humanity history has attempted to classify everything and everyone into either an “us” or a “them.”  Simplistic thinking like this is not what God is about.  It’s not what religion was designed for either.  Religion is supposed to be about assisting people in how God encounters them.  It’s supposed to be about assisting people in being able to see the image of God in others, in serving one another, in bringing about shalom.  It’s not supposed to be about control and power.  Jesus flips the long-practiced narrative of using religion to control.  He “right-sides” everything, moving it back to the way God created it and intended it to be – to be in right relationship with God and others.  

Questions for reflection:

  • How have you encountered religion that has been twisted and used as a means of control?  How did you deal with it?  Did anyone come to your aid?  
  • Have you ever felt trapped by someone?  Did they only offer you two options?  How did that feel?  
  • Where have you seen God flip the script in life and interrupted either/or thinking?  What was that like?  How did it feel?  

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