Rise Above It



Sunday, April 14, 2019
Luke 9:35, 20:19-47

He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Luke 20:25

In Luke 20 we find the legal experts questioning Jesus on two significant issues of their day, taxes and resurrection. Things haven’t changed much. We still wrestle with these two universal and inescapable realities of life… death and taxes.

Many interpreters have made a big deal about Jesus’ understanding of marriage from this text, but that is not really the issue Jesus is addressing. The Sadducee's were not concerned here with a scriptural understanding of marriage. Rather, they were trying to trap Jesus on the issue of whether or not there would be a resurrection from the dead, for Jews were greatly divided on this subject. Marriage was simply the illustration they used to try to prove their point that the idea of resurrection was absurd.

Likewise, interpreters have made much about the issue of taxes and what actually belongs to Caesar. But in both cases, we seem to be missing the point.

These two questions, about taxes and death, are not really separate questions. They stem from the same root motivation which is to trap Jesus. Will Jesus challenge the law of Rome by rejecting the payment of taxes? Will Jesus deny the law of Moses concerning the responsibility of marrying a brother’s widow by affirming the resurrection of these widows with their many husbands?

Resurrection and taxes may be controversial issues, but in this case, they are merely smokescreens for a larger concern… how can we trap Jesus? We don’t really care if he breaks the law of the land or the law of Moses, so long as he breaks some law that we can use against him.

That is why Jesus answer in 20:46-47 is so significant. He sees right through their traps.

How easy it is for us to act pious and righteous because of our outward obedience the law or our “right” beliefs about the scriptures and how easy it is to use our “right” beliefs and behaviors and the litmus test by which to judge everyone else, including Jesus.

What if giving to God what is God’s is not just about “right” beliefs or “right” behaviors? What if giving our money to the temple is not enough? What if believing in the resurrection or not believing in it, depending on our understanding of scripture, is not enough?

What if all of these beliefs and behaviors have become our idols, the things which make us feel self-righteous because we’ve done or believed what is “right”?

It’s not to say that they are wrong. Though the Pharisees and Sadducee's disagreed on matters of resurrection, both groups were morally upright and blameless according to the laws of Moses and of Caesar. Both groups held fast to their belief in the Scriptures even if they did not always interpret them in the same way. All of this is to their credit, and ours to whatever degree we follow in their footsteps.

We have a problem when all of these issues that make us feel “right” begin to cover up the places in our hearts where we are “not right” in our relationship with God and one another.

As Paul writes,

If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever

1 Corinthians 13:2-3

It’s amazing how we can be so right in our knowledge or understanding or belief and how generous we can be in giving all we have to those in need and yet still be so wrong.

Without unconditional, sacrificial, spirit-filled love, all of our “right” behaviors and “right” beliefs amount to nothing.

Rejoice then not in being “right” or doing what is “right”, but in truly having a pure and righteous heart before God.