The whole 20th Chapter of Luke is taken up with Jesus confounding the scribes, the Sadducees and Pharisees as they each try to trip him with one “gottcha” question after another. Like the Wiley Coyote in pursuit of the Road Runner, they are confident that their next clever trap will surely snare Jesus, only to fall flat on their faces over and over. But this game is not cartoon fun or even harmless intellectual sparring. It is deadly serious. Whether it is a question of church and state, as in rendering to Caesar… or the existence of an afterlife, as in the much married widow… or by what authority Jesus preaches, the objective of these questions is not to gain knowledge. It is to charge Christ with a capital crime. Blasphemy, treason or rebellion; any one will do.
The agenda of their verbal assault is not lost on Jesus. But he is more about deeds than words. He has been living and preaching love, forgiveness, humility, inclusion. Having witnessed all that, the only thing these guys can think of is literally trying to nail Jesus with words. As Christ continues to confound them, they take consolation knowing that perjurers are a drachma a dozen.
What lessons are we meant to take from this exchange? To borrow a slogan from the Lone-Star State: Don’t mess with Jesus. You can almost sense the effort put into fashioning each new gambit… only to have Jesus calmly smack it right back at them. They know that they are in over their heads, but they’re not sure why. They are uptight and unhappy living in a narrow, parochial world; slaves to regulation; rationing regard only to the anointed; constantly on the look-out for even the slightest doctrinal deviation. And Jesus gives them plenty to be uptight and unhappy about.
The contrast with Christ could not have been greater. Instead of elaborate rules and rituals, Christ’s message is simplicity itself… love of God and neighbor. He dares to cure on the Sabbath. He embraces sinners. He even claims to forgive sin. And most shocking of all, he has been heard saying that he and the Father are one. Every time he turns around Jesus runs into and over their sense of order, authority and entitlement.
To them, Jesus is dangerous. His message is dangerous. And thousands of years later, it still is dangerous for the proud and the privileged. While his questioners retreat from the shambles of their latest attempt to snare Jesus, they are still out to get him, more than ever. And, of course, before Pilate and Herod, they finally will… and all the while the infinitely eloquent author of the Sermon on the Mount will stand silent. And then silently, humbly, Jesus will take their sins and ours to the cross, where again he delivers no ringing oration. Against a torrent of vile words, catcalls and accusations, he speaks only seven, brief, parting expressions of love, submission and forgiveness. But our loving, merciful God is also a just God. He always has the last word. And in this case Christ’s judgment of his proud accusers is truly just: God’s heaviest sentence awaits them.
The larger lesson of this gospel and the entire New Covenant is clear: Love of God; love of neighbor. We are created by the love of the Father; saved by the love of the Son and guided by the love of the Holy Spirit. We are meant to live in that love and actively witness it in all that we do. Jesus is the Word made flesh. All the rest is just words.
God love you!