Red Letter Year: 9/4

Luke 20.20-47

20 Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus.21 “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. 22 Now tell us — is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

23 He saw through their trickery and said, 24 “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

25 “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

26 So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.

27 Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees — religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead. 28 They posed this question: “Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. 29 Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. 30 So the second brother married the widow, but he also died. 31 Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, who died without children. 32 Finally, the woman also died. 33 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her!”

34 Jesus replied, “Marriage is for people here on earth. 35 But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. 36 And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels. They are children of God and children of the resurrection. 37 But now, as to whether the dead will be raised — even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.”

39 “Well said, Teacher!” remarked some of the teachers of religious law who were standing there.40 And then no one dared to ask him any more questions.

41 Then Jesus presented them with a question. “Why is it,” he asked, “that the Messiah is said to be the son of David? 42 For David himself wrote in the book of Psalms: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit in the place of honor at my right hand 43 until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.’ 44 Since David called the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how can the Messiah be his son?”

45 Then, with the crowds listening, he turned to his disciples and said, 46 “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 47 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.”


Everything in today’s reading appears both in Mark and Matthew as well. Luke follows Mark very closely, with a few notable exceptions. The discussion of the two greatest commandments isn’t here because Luke used that to introduce his Good Samaritan parable.

In the discussion about taxes, Mark (and Matthew) record Jesus asking to see the coin and then someone going to get one (“they brought one”). Luke eliminates this phrase and that small change makes a difference, giving the impression that one of his questioners was carrying the coin in his pocket. This strengthens Jesus’ response, essentially pointing out that willing participation in Caesar’s economic system obliges one to comply with its rules. The question is not paying to Caesar something that is theirs to otherwise keep, it is a matter of giving back to Caesar what was already Caesar’s to begin with.

There is one more change in the discussion with the Sadducees (who make their lone appearance in Luke here). Luke adds/rewords the phrases, “those worthy of being raised from the dead … And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels.” Emphasizing angels was a further dig at the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in angels or resurrection. The clear implication of some being worthy of resurrection is others are not. Jesus follows this with a strong rebuke of the religious leaders – one more obviously public than the ones he offered at their dinner tables earlier – which further drives home this implication.

But what really stood out to me as I read this was the kingdom oriented lead-in I have been describing the past few days. Even though Luke shares these arguments with Mark and Matthew, his focus on Jesus as king just before this throws the whole thing into a new relief. Luke makes it clear that their questions were not legitimate ones; instead they were thinly veiled attacks. Still, they give the one on his way to be crowned king an opportunity to set policy, to share kingdom perspective on some key issues.

Taxation was certainly one. Josephus tells us that this taxation was the cause of a major revolt and that those paying the tax were considered guilty of treason. The questioners here chose the most controversial topic of the day as the one to weave into a trap for Jesus. They thought they framed the question in a way that gave Jesus limited options: pay or don’t pay. But Jesus refuses their options. He chooses other – give back the image (idol? – the coin called Tiberius ‘divine’) to the one it belongs to. And, oh by the way, that’s not the only image you’re carrying around. You also bear the image of God and you should give that back too.

The position of women in society was also an issue Jesus weighs in on here. The Sadducees were asking what they regarded as an absurd question about resurrection, but in the process they betrayed an attitude toward women that presumed the widow must belong to one of the seven brothers. Whose property would she be? In answering none (another refusal of the available options), Jesus moved the treatment of women as second tier humans from the universal to the contingent. Women are not subordinate to men because they were created that way or destined for such, but because of sinful social convention that will be altogether set aside in the kingdom. In the kingdom, women are called and have their own work, which is not of a different quality or value than that of men, but is the same: growing the kingdom and reaping the harvest. Those who subjugate women are grouped with those who do not believe in the resurrection. They have rejected the king and his policies and are in open opposition to the kingdom.

The heart of the new kingdom is resurrection. It is the crowning of the king’s own act of ultimate obedience and sacrifice and the promise that all its citizens live by. It is definitive of the relationship between the disciple and God – the God who is only the God of living people. To reject resurrection – or to live a life not in congruence with a belief in resurrection – precludes one from the kingdom.

The rebuke Jesus gives makes this clear and encloses this passage. The questioners weren’t concerned about the Roman political-economic system, they loved being in the marketplace and enjoying the honor the system brought them. They weren’t concerned with widows, well, not beyond stealing all their resources. And they weren’t concerned with a living relationship with a living God, their religion served only to bring them attention. The limited choices they presented Jesus were drawn from their own shallow existences. Jesus brings a deeper, kingdom perspective because he is alive to God and alive to others. May the same be true of us.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 9/3

Luke 20.1-19

20 One day as Jesus was teaching the people and preaching the Good News in the Temple, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?”

“Let me ask you a question first,” he replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?”

They talked it over among themselves. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask why we didn’t believe John. But if we say it was merely human, the people will stone us because they are convinced John was a prophet.” So they finally replied that they didn’t know.

And Jesus responded, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Now Jesus turned to the people again and told them this story: “A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and moved to another country to live for several years. 10 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers attacked the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 11 So the owner sent another servant, but they also insulted him, beat him up, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 A third man was sent, and they wounded him and chased him away.

13 ‘What will I do?’ the owner asked himself. ‘I know! I’ll send my cherished son. Surely they will respect him.’

14 But when the tenant farmers saw his son, they said to each other, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 15 So they dragged him out of the vineyard and murdered him. What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do to them?” Jesus asked. 16 “I’ll tell you — he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others.”

“How terrible that such a thing should ever happen,” his listeners protested.

17 Jesus looked at them and said, “Then what does this Scripture mean? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ 18 Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”

19 The teachers of religious law and the leading priests wanted to arrest Jesus immediately because they realized he was telling the story against them — they were the wicked farmers. But they were afraid of the people’s reaction.


What really strikes me in today’s reading is the theme of authority and how the response to authority is so revealing of the self. The religious leaders’ demand regarding Jesus’ authority and their internal discussion regarding John’s reveal a great deal about where they are. They refuse to be honest about John and fail to gain any insight from Jesus, but they paint quite a self-portrait for us in the process.

It has been a while since authority has been mentioned in Luke, but it is an important theme. Satan brought it up first in 4.6, tempting Jesus with what he claimed to be able to give. Jesus’ miraculous works demonstrated his authority (4.32, 36, 5.24) and he then bestowed authority on his followers (9.1, 10.19).  Jesus and his followers make use of authority to get kingdom work done (what the fruit in the story represents), they are not concerned with authority as a thing unto itself.

The dynamic here is reminiscent of the Good Samaritan parable earlier, where Jesus critiques a question and redirects it. Essentially, the religious leaders are asking for his credentials. Jesus responds by asking what their openness is to God’s visitation. Remember the lament from yesterday: Jesus has just said Jerusalem was unable to see the time of God’s visitation to her. The religious leaders exemplify this here. As the parable illustrates, they fail to recognize their place as workers. They delude themselves into thinking they can gain an inheritance by killing the heir. Their obsession with authority and self-advancement have blinded them to the actual move of God. The prophetic ministries of John and Jesus were not able to penetrate their hearts.

I am afraid we have just such an epidemic of authority obsession in the church today. We squabble and jockey over who gets to be in charge, who gets to speak from our pulpits. We treat church like a pyramid scheme and think of larger church structures (e.g., denominations) as if they are latticed with corporate ladders to climb, as if there is some top, some hierarchy to work toward. This is what the religious leaders and even the disciples thought of when they talked about authority. But in doing so, they reveal themselves in all their anxiety, insecurity, self-preoccupation – yeah, all the stuff we still struggle with.

None of this has anything to do with kingdom authority. At issue is not internal authority, the relationships between us should be governed by our common focus on the work at hand and the mutual freedom Jesus has brought to us. Kingdom authority is not authority to rule within the kingdom. We have one king and we are all servants. Kingdom authority is authority over sickness, disease, blindness, poverty, spiritual oppression, bondage, injustice, and the powers of this world that now stand condemned. Kingdom authority is the authority to declare the year of the Lord’s favor, to usher in and witness moments of divine visitation. Kingdom authority is authority to do the work of the kingdom. Those who wish to merely possess authority misunderstand its purpose and are only playing games of internal politics. Those who understand the politics of Jesus are free to access and use his authority to carry out the work Jesus has called them to do.

God has called you to do something. God has empowered you with what you need to do that. God has given you the authority to do that. Surround yourself with people who recognize your call, celebrate your empowerment, and help you grow into your authority. And for heaven’s sake, stop waiting for permission to do the work you have been assigned. You will find your truest self in doing the work.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.