Disputations: Mark 12:13-27

Day 30
March 20, 2018
Mark 12:13-27

Next opponents up are a mix of Pharisees and Herodians. The former are a step removed from the temple, building the synagogue Judaism of Talmud and Torah for the diaspora. The latter are collaborators with Roman rule. It’s different opposition than temple defenders, but allied in interest in defence of the status quo.

Their challenge to trap Jesus is about taxes. They begin with flattery, then ask if we should pay taxes to the emperor of Rome. Their own answer is ‘yes’, given their partisanship. But they’d love to have a ‘wedge’ issue with his populist base who hate the Roman rule.

Jesus does another sidestep.  He asks for a coin, asks whose head is on it – then says give to Caesar what is Caesar’s – and to God the things that are God’s. How do you interpret that? Our tradition varies on whether God’s stuff is all spiritual, never material, or government must be legitimate – or even Christian – to claim a moral right to tax us.  We can hardly imagine a time before Christendom, nor have we reworked our moral reasoning for our post-Christendom times.

Next come the Sadducees to challenge, a crowd denying resurrection – a bit like our own secularists denying the metaphysics of heaven above, and deriding ‘The God Delusion’. They try to make fun of the vision of heaven, with a story of a woman seven times widowed by brothers, each in turn with a duty to marry their brother’s childless widow. In heaven, whose will she be? 

Jesus says they lack knowledge of scripture and of the power of God. He argues that resurrected, they are like angels, neither married nor marrying. Then he cites the burning bush from Torah, that God is God of the living. We don’t really get the rabbinic logic – and resist the loss of human identity in this version of resurrection – how do you imagine the population of the hereafter?