Let’s Trap Jesus ? 32nd Sunday in ordinary time – Luke 20:27-38


Let’s Trap Jesus ? 32nd Sunday in ordinary time – Luke 20:27-38

Placing the text in its immediate context; we know that Jesus has triumphantly entered Jerusalem to robust calls of “Hosanna.” This rabbinical Hebrew word when translated must have surely caught the ears of both the Roman occupiers as well as the Chief Priests for Hosanna simply meant “save, we pray thee.” Clearly Jesus was hailed on that first Palm Sunday by the crowds as the Messiah. Sadly, the true meaning of that word was not clearly understood by them for why else would their cries turn to, “crucify him?”

We are now in the ‘Holy Week’. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus enters the temple (19:45) and drives those who were selling things. Since this is a religious matter the defenders of the faith within the temple take umbrage and we are told in 20:1 that the chief priest and the scribes came with the elders to question the authority of Jesus. Jesus not only refuses to answer their question he tells them a parable in which they are the villains (20:19).

Being humiliated in their very own temple, before their own congregants was too much for them to bear. So, they watch him and send spies who pretended to be honest in order to trap him (20:20). The spies having failed (20:26), the big guns are brought out; the Sadducees.

Clearly, this time they did not have a question for Jesus, as much as they had a religious riddle; the foundations of which they themselves did not believe. This was a question designed to humiliate and ridicule Jesus. In order to understand this convoluted narrative, we need to understand that the Sadducees belonged to that sect of Judaism that rejected the resurrection and angels and only accepted the first five books of Moses as authentic, among other things.

They designed a hypothetical situation for Jesus to answer. A woman married to a man dies without bearing him a child and so one by one the man’s brothers, each in their turn marries her only to die. The case is the same for all seven brothers. Now comes the riddle; whose wife would she be in the resurrection?
To the modern mind such a narrative is both ridiculous and bizarre; not to a Jewish mind. There existed at the time of Jesus a ‘levirate law’. The Levirate laws’ primary aim was to hold the possession of land within the family. In short, if a man died without an heir, then his widow was to marry her husband’s brother or kinsman, and thus the land was retained within the family.

Jesus was certainly no fool. He saw how complex the issues thrown to Him were. The authority quoted by the Sadducees to back their doctrinal claim was Moses himself. For them, Moses was the author of the Torah and the one from whose hand the Law of God came. Jesus attacks both, their failure to understand the Law of Moses, and their foolishness in limiting the power of God. This must have come as quite a slap in the face of those who claimed to be authorities on both.

The mistake that the Sadducees make is to limit the power of God (in this case the resurrection) to their known categories of understanding. We too do the same. In reality, God is beyond all human categories and hence HE IS GOD. For the Sadducees, resurrection was a continuation of human life; hence the question, ‘whose wife shall she be at the resurrection?’

Jesus knew that the Sadducees would not take any explanation for an answer if the answer was not from the Torah; the books they accepted. So Jesus does precisely that. His reply comes from Moses in the Torah. God, in speaking to Moses in the incident of the burning bush, God refers to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

If the resurrection was a myth, as the Sadducees claimed, then God would have referred to His relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the past tense. But God does not say, ‘I was the God of Abraham’, but ‘I am’ thus establishing that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were alive and resurrected. In doing this, He demolished the hoax that the Sadducees had made the resurrection to be.
And that ended this round of attacks against Jesus.

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