Now continuing our discussion of the Gospel readings in early Holy Week, let’s look at Great and Holy Monday evening. Monday evening contains the questions asked by the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes to trick or to humiliate Christ. This is a continuation from Matthew, and comes from chapter 22 of Matthew. The first question they ask Him is the one we’re all familiar with about paying taxes to Caesar. It tells us that the Pharisees went and took council how they might entangle Him in His talk (and you can understand how after that insulting reference to them as the wicked tenants, they really wanted to try to trap Him), so the Pharisees sent their disciples to Him with the Herodians to ask Him this question about paying taxes to Caesar.
The Herodians and rendering unto Caesar
I haven’t really talked to you too much about the Herodians. This is another group of Jews. They were supporters of the Herodian dynasty and basically the kings, the Herods, and their courtiers. The Herodians remained in power only at the consent of the Romans. When we do our introduction to the Bible, when we get to the New Testament, I will tell you why some parts of Palestine were ruled by Roman procurators and other parts had kings named “Herod,” and who these various Herods were. We’ll talk about that in the future, but basically, Jesus was a subject of king Herod because he was a Galilean. So the Herodians would be very much in favor of a tax because that’s how they remained in power by consent of the Romans. So if they paid the tax and they rendered the tax to Romans, they got to keep their power. But the tax represented Roman domination and it was a source of great controversy among the Jews. There were many radicals, such as zealots, (the zealots were yet another group that I didn’t tell you about), but the zealots were people who wanted to overthrow Roman rule in the holy land by force, by the use of violence.
So the Zealots opposed the paying of the tax, while the Herodians favored the tax since that’s how they got to rule—they collected the tax and Rome allowed them to rule. The Pharisees generally went ahead and paid the tax because they were realists and they knew that they had to cooperate with the Romans if the nation was to survive. But nonetheless, there was something rather unsavory in the mind of the Pharisees toward paying the tax, and the most radical Jews opposed it, as I said.
So they ask Him this question: “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God and truth and you care for no one, nor do you regard anyone’s position. Tell us what you think: Is it lawful to pay the tax to Caesar or not?” So you see how they start? They begin by attempting to lull Christ into making a statement contrary to His interests by flattery. They flatter Him before they ask the question. And the irony that Chrysostom points out is that everything they say about Him is true. He is a teacher, they know He’s true, that he teaches the way of God, and that He doesn’t care about anyone’s opinion nor regards anyone’s position.
So everything they say is true, but they don’t believe their own words. And the flattery is so obvious. They come addressing Him as “teacher,” and say “we know you’re from God,” and, “you say the truth.” But, previously they showed that they despise Him, they insulted Him, and they don’t consider Him a teacher because they have no respect for Him. Now they call Him teacher and come to ask Him a question? This is very similar to the case of the woman accused of adultery. Why did they bring the woman accused of adultery before Christ to ask Him whether or not she ought to be stoned? Why did they ask Him for a legal ruling (because that’s what they’re doing)? They have no respect for Him. It’s a trap, and it’s quite obviously a trap.
“So tell us what you think? Is it lawful to pay the tax or not?” Does God permit the paying of the tax? They’re not asking whether it’s lawful from a Roman perspective, of Roman law—of course it is, it’s required by Roman law—but whether it was acceptable in the eyes of God for the Jews to submit to a pagan emperor by means of a tax, because by doing so you’re recognizing the role of the emperor, that he is supreme; you’re recognizing his authority by paying tax to him.
Now if Christ told them not to pay the tax, of course He’d be marked as a rebel and He would be considered a threat to Roman order. That would be perfect. He could be charged with sedition right away. But if He tells them that they ought to pay the tax, then other people would say, “Look He’s with the Romans and He’s really not one of us.” Either way the Pharisees and the Herodians believed that Jesus was in a trap. No matter what He answered, He was going to answer in some manner that would create a charge against Him. Either He supported the Romans or He was against the Romans, and either way it was not good for Him. Now this tax was a large amount of money. It was one denarius, which was one day’s wage. But it had to be paid in a Roman coin, which bore the image of the emperor. The emperor at that time was Tiberius Caesar, who ruled from 14 AD to 37, and on the coin was not only the picture of the emperor (and by the way picture of the emperor was pretty realistic, it actually looked like the person) But around the coin, the way we have “in God we trust” or “United States of America”, it read “Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus, Pontifix Maximus” (“Tiberius Caesar August Son of the Divine Augustus, High Priest”), which is basically saying he’s the son of god. He’s the son of “the divine Augustus” (because Augustus was dead he had been proclaimed a god), and he’s the high priest.
Christ is very aware of their malice and He responds to them very severely; Chrysostom says that He addresses them as “hypocrites” because their malice is so obvious due to their flattery. The Lord denounces them as hypocrites, which is more than the usual severity, since their wickedness was complete and so manifest that He reveals their thoughts. So yes, they’re being hypocrites when they call Him “teacher”, because they don’t consider Him a teacher. The Lord answers by turning the tables on them again, forcing them to prove His point, to decide the answer to the question, which gives him a clear victory. He says, “Show me the coin of the tax.” Now the tax had to be paid with Roman coin, and there were many, many kinds of coins that circulated at the time. The Jews minted their own coins. This is the reason why the money changers were outside the Temple changing money, because you were not permitted to walk into the Temple with Roman coins since they had the image of the emperor on them, with those blasphemous words around the outside of it. You had to change your money for Temple coin, which had a menorah on it. So the truth is that many of the Jews did not like to carry these coins because the coin was an idolatrous image. The most pious Jews refused to carry that coin because of its idolatrous image, the picture of the emperor, and the blasphemous statement that said Tiberius was divine.
Render unto Caesar
So here they are: Obviously there were moneychangers in Judea at the Temple and other places, but the most pious Jews would not carry the coin. So, He says: “Show me the coin.” And they take it out! They produce it very easily, which showed that they were not as pious as they pretended to be. It’s really a wonderful moment. Now He says to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” and of course “to God the things that are God’s.” Now “render” means to “give back,” not simply to give, but to give back. It is the verb that’s used for the settling or paying off a debt, so it refers to something that is rightfully owed. Chrysostom said this, and many interpreters recognized this as being the case. So since the tax was paid with a Roman coin and it had Caesar’s image on it, the coin belonged to the emperor, it belongs to him—just as when you put your name on something it belongs to you. So paying the tax was simply giving him back what was already his, and since they carried his coin then they should be paying his taxes.
What about the reference to render to God the things that are God’s? Since they pretended to honor God they should do that as well, and the Lord turns the tables on them in this way by reminding them that God also has demands. There are things that are rightfully due to Him, and they should be more concerned about rendering to God what belonged to Him than be preoccupied with what was due to Caesar. Chrysostom discusses how every sphere of life has its obligations, and it is possible to meet one’s political or social obligations without being disloyal to God, especially where there is no conflict between what is owed in each area. And when the Lord says, “Render to Caesar,” He’s only speaking of those things that are of no detriment to godliness.
“Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”
Well, the Lord succeeds very effectively and brilliantly in stopping the mouths of the Pharisees, and now come the Sadducees to ask Him a question. The Gospel tells us that the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, come with a hypothetical argument designed to basically try to make the Lord look foolish for supporting the idea of resurrection. The Sadducees could not accept resurrection because they believed it couldn’t be found in the Torah. Remember, they accepted only the Torah, the first five books, as Scripture. So they used the example in the Mosaic Law, which obliges a man to raise up children for his dead brother by making a point that resurrection is incompatible with the Torah. They create this ridiculous hypothetical situation. They say that a man and a woman got married and the man died before the couple had any children, so the wife marries his brother, then he dies without having any children, then she marries a third brother and he dies before they could have any children. She ends up marrying seven brothers (because none of them produce children) and then she dies. And of course the question is: “Whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”
Now the requirement that someone marry his brother’s wife if they died without leaving children is called, “levirate marriage”. It’s based on Deuteronomy 25:5-10, and the idea was that it was considered a very terrible thing for a woman to be a widow and childless because you needed children to support you in your old age. There was no such thing as social security and food stamps and so forth, so children were extremely important.
They give the example with these seven brothers. Now, the seven brothers are intended to simply ridicule the belief in the resurrection by making the scenario so absurd. Although in the Old Testament there were those like Solomon and David who practiced polygamy, that’s not what the Sadducees are suggesting here, but polyandry: one woman with many husbands. We never see that in the Old Testament. In the legal sense they’re asking whose wife will she be when they’re all together in the afterlife? You simply cannot have seven men married to one woman. You can have a man with seven wives, but not a woman with seven husbands. But the question is moot, because the life of the resurrection is not like this life. Now Chrysostom remarks that the Lord does not speak to the Sadducees as harshly as He did the Pharisees, because their question was based on ignorance, not craftiness; so He answers them like a teacher. But I like the Lord’s answer because even though He’s not really harsh with them I think it’s a little bit insulting anyhow, because He says to them, “You err, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” It’s a wonderful line.
He addresses each of these issues in reverse order. First, He shows that they do not understand the power of God, that is, what is the resurrection is about. Life after resurrection will be very different from this life. There will be no reason for procreation, there will be no jealousy, there will be no reason for the exclusiveness of marriage because it is a spiritual existence. In the resurrection, “They neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels.” Now Chrysostom notes that just because “they do not marry”, that is not what makes them like angels. He pays very careful attention to the way the Lord phrases it. He says: “because they are like angels, they have a spiritual existence and they do not marry.” This leads Chrysostom to sermonize on one of his favorite topics, the spiritual life, especially the monastic life. But I think it’s very, very interesting that he seems to indirectly affirm the importance of marriage and life in the world, because he seems to be correcting a misinterpretation of the verse. I think that it’s possible that people were using this verse to support the monastic life as superior to the married life. Because Chrysostom says they’re not angels because they don’t marry, but because they are like angels—that is why they don’t marry. So he’s very, very careful with his exegesis of this statement, and I think he seems to be countering an argument and drawing a different conclusion.
The angelic life
Now, there’s no question that Chrysostom highly esteemed the monastic life. He was a monk himself, but among all of the Fathers he probably has the most balanced view of marriage and family life. And though he goes on to talk about the monks and hold them up as examples to his congregation, he makes sure first that the understanding of that verse is correct: One is not angelic because one does not marry; but because one is already living like the angels, then one does not marry. It’s true that the monastic life is called “the angelic life” because monastics are already living a spiritual kind of life. And you might have noticed perhaps in the past, that there are certain icons of St. John the Forerunner in which he seems to have wings behind him. This is because St. John lived this kind of angelic existence in the desert, in which he lived a life of great askesis, spiritual struggle and deprivation, etc. And because of this he is also like a forerunner of the monastics. This is why he’s shown with wings behind him—not because he really had wings, but because he was angelic in his way of life. Of course, just because the Lord says this, you should never think that we become angels in the afterlife. We are not angels and we will never be angels, despite what movies try to show us—that when people die they become angels. No, we become like angels because we will have a spiritual existence.
“I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob.”
How does the Lord respond to their challenge to defend the resurrection on the basis of Scripture, which they acknowledge? The Sadducees do not accept the resurrection on the basis of the books of the prophets because Sadducees don’t accept the book of the prophets as Scripture—only the Torah. So the Lord responds to them using Scriptures that they recognize as authoritative. “Have you not read: ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob’.” Okay, so where does He say this? When the Lord introduced Himself to Moses in the burning bush, He said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Now, this expression in Hebrew “I am the God of” means having a loving, caring relationship with someone. You don’t have relationships with dead people. So, this quotation was meant to illustrate that God’s relationship with the nation of Israel is a living one, and the patriarchs of the Old Testament must still be living, because at the time when Moses met God in the burning bush and He said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” They had long since died. Those patriarchs were dead, and yet God refers to them as alive because He doesn’t say, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” but, “I am the God…” So this is a very strong argument from the Torah, using the Scriptures that the Sadducees recognized, to establish the existence of the resurrection; and it shows Him to be the superior interpreter of the Scriptures. And there you have it—the Sadducees also fall short in their effort to discredit Christ.
“What is the greatest commandment?”
Then we have the third question, and that is, “What is the greatest commandment”? The Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, and one of them—as it says, a lawyer—came to test Him, to ask Him a question. Remember that “lawyer” means he’s a scribe, a legal expert. It’s not as much of a trap, but perhaps they wish to see if He would answer in some other fashion, because the Pharisees like to talk about the law. They would discuss, “What is the greatest law?” and they would try to organize the laws, and synthesize and systematize them. However, when the lawyer comes to ask Him this question, which I think is kind of a softball question, but it’s asked to see how He might respond to this. Perhaps they wish to engage Him in some kind of debate or dispute to discredit Him. The Lord uses this exchange to turn the tables on them again, and ask them a question.
First let’s look at the question that the Scribe, or lawyer, asked of Him. “What is the greatest commandment?” And of course the Lord answers, “You shall love your Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” So, that’s the first one: to love God; and secondly, your neighbor as yourself. This quotation comes from Deuteronomy 6:5, and it was a very important phrase; it was recited several times a day by pious Jews as part of the Shema Israel. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” That is called the Shema, and this idea that you must love the Lord your God was absolutely fundamental to Judaism, while the second, being like it, “love your neighbor as yourself,” comes from Leviticus 19:18. He says, “On these two hang the whole of the Law and the Prophets”; that is, the commandment to love God and love one’s neighbor cannot be separated and everything else depends upon it. If you observe those, then that’s all you really need to do.
“Who is David’s son?”
After this He turns and asks them a question: “Who is David’s son?” This is a very, very important passage. The Pharisees are gathered together, they come now to join the discussion. He asks them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” And of course they say, “He’s David’s son.” This was the tradition among the Jews, and it was the prophecy in the Scriptures—a prophecy that the Lord fulfilled. He’s David’s son. The Lord descended from David according to the flesh, in His humanity.
Now what the Lord wants to illustrate for them is that the Messiah is the son of David but not just the son of David—he’s much more than that. He says, “If he’s David’s son, how is it that David in the Spirit says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand while I make thine enemies thy footstool”’?” Now this statement, how David said “in the Spirit”, reflects the Jewish belief in the inspiration of prophecy by the Spirit of God. Even though this is a psalm, it is considered prophecy; David spoke and wrote the psalms under divine inspiration. And so when David, in the Spirit, that is, being inspired by God, says, “the Lord (that is, we would say, God the Father) said to my Lord (here we mean the Christ): ‘Sit at my right hand’”. The word “Lord” is used for both: “Kyrios.” David is the speaker. The first reference to “Lord” refers to God, we would say, the Father. The second reference to “Lord” must refer to someone superior to David because He is being addressed by King David as “my Lord.” “The Lord said to my Lord,” referring to two separate persons. So if being son of David is what makes the Messiah great, because he is the “son of David,” how can the Messiah be greater than David? How can he be David’s Lord? So the second person referred to cannot simply be David’s son. If what makes him great and gives him the high status of Messiah is the fact that he’s David’s son, he can’t be greater than David himself. But here he clearly is, since David is addressing him as “my Lord.”
So, Christ uses this psalm, which, by the way, had been used to crown new kings, to make statement about the Messiah. The Messiah must be more than simply David’s son, and the clear implication is that the Messiah is God’s Son—because of the use of the word “Lord” in both instances, he identifies the Messiah with God. Very, very powerful. This psalm 109 (or 110 in the western numbering) was very popular among the early Christians and was used to refer to the exaltation of Christ as Lord. This explanation was so profound, so deep, so amazing, that he shut up His opponents for good. And the Gospel says that, “After that, no-one dared to ask Him any more questions.”
The readings continue on Great and Holy Monday evening with Matthew chapter 23. We read part of chapter 23, which is, “the woes to the Scribes and Pharisees.” There is an entire chapter in Matthew that consists of a scathing denunciation of the Scribes and the Pharisees. It summarizes the conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leadership. We can clearly see the kinds of things He denounces them for, which motivate them to have Him arrested, put on trial and put to death. He says, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees!” What is a “woe”? It’s a lamentation. It’s an expression of grief, of great disappointment, a very strong denunciation that comes very close to a curse. It’s the opposite of a beatitude. You have the blessings, the beatitudes, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” and the opposite of that is a “woe.” The Prophets very often addressed the people in this way when the people were not listening to them. They would say “woe” to the people in power and position. It’s a pronouncement of judgment and warning to others.
What kinds of things does He denounce the Pharisees for? We won’t go through the whole reading, but basically He denounces them for seeking glory and honors, preaching but not practicing what they preach. Accusing them of hypocrisy, He uses the term “hypocrites” many times. “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He accuses them of binding heavy burdens on people’s lives, which are the Pharisaic teachings of the requirements for ritual purity, the thousands of regulations. Their emphasis on all of these rules had made the Law so burdensome that no one could bear it. They bound regulations upon people and imposed on them these heavy burdens. They loved their titles and being given places of honor at feasts and the best seats. They loved flattery, they loved honor, they loved glory. He condemns them for corrupting the converts when they manage to make a convert; they corrupt that person rather than leading him toward godliness. He condemns them for observing insignificant laws while ignoring the more important things. He says, “You tithe the mint and the cumin”— they even tithe the spices in their house—“while ignoring the weightier matters of the Law: justice, love mercy.” They “strain at the gnat and swallow the camel.” This goes on for quite a long time, and you can easily see why the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus killed.
I know this has been a very long podcast. Thank you for bearing with me. Next time we will begin with the betrayal, the arrest and the Jewish trial of the Lord, and we will do a very detailed study of the Jewish trial, verse by verse in the Gospel of Matthew. Until then, may God keep you all in His wonderful and loving care. Let’s conclude with our prayer: “Lord, now let Thy servants depart in peace according to Thy word, for our eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel. Amen.”