In Mark 12, the Sadducees came to challenge Jesus with a question about the resurrection. Theologically conservative, the Sadducees accepted only Genesis through Deuteronomy and they prided themselves on meticulous adherence to the text.
But their conservatism blinded them to their own traditionalism. In rejecting an afterlife, they had accepted the notion that if there were an afterlife, it must simply be an extension of present life: marriage, children, homes and jobs. Only the location changed. So they came to Jesus with a scenario: a man dies with no heirs. His brother (being a good “law-keeper” – see Deuteronomy 25:5-6) married the widow. He too died without heirs. Another brother took her in. Eventually, seven brothers married her – all dying without heirs. Finally, the woman died. So, they asked, if there were a resurrection, whose wife would she be? If she couldn’t be the wife of them all – and they believed she couldn’t – there couldn’t be a resurrection.
Jesus accused them of being deceived and ignorant. They were deceived by a world view that had no basis in scripture (the afterlife is like this life). They were deceived by a traditional, but faulty, interpretation of Deuteronomy 25. And they were ignorant of their own scripture that affirmed life after death (Exodus 3:6).
When it comes to what we have historically believed about the will of God, we should remember that our ancestors didn’t just pull those ideas out of a hat. We should not reject them just because they are traditional. But then again, no generation has a lock on truth. Every belief must be re-examined by every generation to make sure our understanding is not colored by faulty presuppositions. And every generation is obligated to continue study, to build on foundations laid before us.
“Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away” (Mark 12:12).
Mark 12 begins with a parable (12:1-12): A wealthy man creates a vineyard and does all to make it successful. Then he rents the vineyard out to others who then lay plans to steal it from him – refusing to pay the owner his share of the crop, treating shamefully his emissaries, and eventually, killing the son of the property owner. Jesus ends the parable with a warning that the vineyard workers will be put to death and then cites Psalm 118 praising the triumph of the vineyard owner – who, in this case, is God.
It’s not surprising that the Jewish leaders “got” the parable. As it begins, it sounds very much like the parable of Isaiah 5, a parable of condemnation for Israel’s spiritual barrenness. But the citation of the Psalm at the end takes the focus off of Israel and places it on the leaders who have hijacked the vineyard of God for themselves, laying plans to kill the vineyard owner’s son: Jesus.
A similar hijacking happens today when people take the Church, God’s vineyard, for themselves recreating it in their own image – an image more palatable and appealing to themselves and (they say) the world. The result however is the ruination of God’s vineyard and an exchange of the “Body of Christ” in which the blessings of heaven are found for “The Church of What’s Happening Now” in which no heavenly blessings are found.
Important to keep in mind.
When the Pharisees and Herodians came to test Jesus, have you ever wondered why Jesus had no coin of his own?
I realize the text doesn’t actually say that he had no coin, you might wonder why, if he had his own, he didn’t use it. The coin he asks for is a denarius, the daily wage of the working man. Here was a group of people who had money, arguing with a man who had none, about the propriety of paying taxes.
But then again, they weren’t really interested in paying taxes.
They remind me so much of some disciples today who major in minor things – things that have nothing to do really with what God has actually said – in order to cover up their inattention to major things that God really spoke about. When Christian people, for example, in an effort to stand for truth, turn mean and hateful, it will not matter what truth they are for, their proclaimed faithfulness is overshadowed by the hardness of their heart.
Mark really shines in these lessons. By looking at the people who opposed Jesus, and the people who followed Jesus, and being honest about them both, he gives us a compendium of behavior we can match with our own lives to see if we are truly disciples of the Lord.