Untangling the Laws
There are a number of commercials on TV these days selling pharmaceutical drugs. What strikes me is how many of those drugs are prescribed to counteract the negative side effects of drugs people are already on. So, instead of getting off the first drug, we just keep adding new drugs to the mix. Where does it end?
The laws passed down by God through Moses seem similar to me. God gave laws to help a newly liberated people learn how to govern themselves. Over the centuries, however, they had to keep adding new laws on top of old laws to clarify the ones that were confusing or obscure. By Jesus' time, the people were so discombobulated by the endless intricacies of the law, it was impossible to sort through it all. They used this knotted twine of laws to entrap Jesus many times.
But Jesus wouldn't play. He consistently boiled it down to the core of the truth. In the matter of taxes, Jesus gave an answer so simple, it hurts in its profoundness. Give to the emperor what is the emperor, and to God what is God's. Brilliant. In the matter of marriage, Jesus explained that the marriage laws were for the living, not for the dead. In the afterlife, there will be no need for marriage laws that protect widows from the negative repercussions of a dead spouse, because there will be no more death. Simple, yet brilliant once again.
More than once, Jesus boiled it down to the core. What is the greatest law of the land? Love God, love others. Why do we make it so difficult? Love God, love others. Unless they're not like us. Unless they're mentally ill or addicted. Unless they're criminals. Unless they don't love us first. Loving others may not be easy, but it is simple and brilliant.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Luke 20:20-47
So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question. Then he said to them, “How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son? For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ David thus calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”