Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Testing (Mark 12:13-34)

After the parable against the religious leaders, the remainder of chapter 12 is dedicated to those leaders testing Jesus, and Jesus teaching on topics related to them. The testing of Jesus is not an attempt to evaluate or approve Jesus, but rather to trap Him in some way.

The first test is intended to get Jesus in trouble with the political powers of the day. They ask Him for His view of the Roman Empire and its validity. If Jesus speaks out in favor of the empire, it would likely alienate the people, many of whom see Him as the Messiah sent to overthrow the oppressor. On the other hand, if He were to speak against Rome He would likely be rendered powerless to influence the people anymore due to imprisonment or worse.

Jesus’ answer is similar to His response when they questioned His authority. Seeing their motivations, He skilfully dodges the trap. It must be said, however, that in dodging the trap, He does NOT dodge the question. Much like today’s cultural Christians, the religious Jews of Jesus day saw politics (and power) as a serious, worthwhile preoccupation. Jesus’ answer reveals the real distinction between the things of God, and politics. Politics are not something Jesus gets excited about. Today’s Christian ought to take note of this.

The second test was a theological trap. Could Jesus be made to look silly for believing in something like the resurrection? Resurrection opponents presented Him with something they saw as illogical. How could the resurrection exist if people are allowed to remarry once a spouse is dead? Who would be married to whom in the afterlife?

Here, Jesus exposes the flaw in their theological arguments: they have a limited understanding of spiritual matters, and demand that their limited perspective match up to their imperfect measure of human logic. We still struggle with this issue today as well. How many theological arguments have arisen due to our insistence that we can completely understand and issue, all the while refusing to embrace the paradoxical nature of God’s revelation? There are few arrogances as haughty as theological ones.

The final test comes from Scripture. A lawyer asks Jesus to name the most important law. How is a religious person supposed to single out on law over another? In favoring one over another could be argued that Jesus was weak in His moral stance on other issues. But Jesus is not tripped up here either. He does not approach the law as a legalist. It is the spirit of the law that matters. Jesus singles out the law to love God as most important, and a second—to love others—close behind it. All of the law is a description of how to live out these two maxims. Keep them in mind and you can steer your way through any situation—whether spelled out in a law or not.

So, in summary, Jesus avoids the traps set for Him while in effect teaching some important lessons for His followers: let politics take care of itself as you trust God, don’t ever become too sure of your own theological theories, and aim to understand and obey Scripture rather than thoughtlessly follow a list of rules.

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