Jesus confounds the Pharisees.
January 22nd 2003
Received by H.
Hello, my dear friend.
Let us talk about a different subject:
Imagine the following setting:
Time: 26 AD, in the month of Tishri (that is to say, in September)
Once again, the city bubbles over with pilgrims. Of course, on that occasion people did not celebrate the Passover feast [it being autumn!], but the feast of Thanksgiving for the good harvest.
On entering the city people went past vast lines of tents that skirted all the access roads, an enormous camp that surrounded the city walls, a city of tents whose population actually surpassed that of the city itself. Jerusalem then had between 20 and 40 thousand inhabitants - but that depended on what you included as the city area. Many villages, such as Bethphage and Bethany, lay so close that they could easily be considered rural suburbs of the city.
Dense swarms of men moved toward the city gates or were on their way back, and inside the walls it was almost impossible to walk freely without being pushed and suffering one or other bump. And to make things worse, the hollers and shouts of traveling salesmen, of greengrocers and market people was quite deafening.
Right in the middle of such a bustle, Jesus was discussing, teaching and preaching in a market.
As I explained to you on previous occasions, Jesus had gained some fame in the capital of the Jews. He had found open ears amongst the populace, but even amongst the “true” Pharisees he had managed to recruit one or other follower, and a considerable group of people watched his deeds with approval. Just think of the example of Buni Nicodemus. Ah, yes, I said “true” Pharisees, because there is the idea nowadays that the Pharisees constituted the majority of the population, and that is quite simply wrong. The “true” Pharisees, as I call them, formed a small elite group, a few thousand perhaps in the whole country. But it is true that their teachings exercised great influence over the people, and that a large part of the middle and lower classes, such as the artisans, felt attracted to the theology of the Pharisees.
As usual during major festivities of the Jews, the presence of Roman soldiers was significant. But what attracted even more surprised glances of the pilgrims was the splendor of the decorations that transformed the entire city into an outright jewel of dazzling colors. Flower bouquets, palm leaves and wonderful artistic floral arrangements gave the impression that the city had dressed for its wedding with God. Jesus had already spent one week or somewhat more in the city - with us [the apostles], of course. In the first weeks of Tishri, a series of festivities provided more than enough reason for staying in Jerusalem.
Well, now, having set the scene, let’s get to the heart and soul of our short story.
While Jesus had gained fame as a skilled preacher, a master of Scriptures, and a magnificent speaker, not all Pharisees approved of him. Lastly, Jesus was a stranger, a northern peasant from a country where the Law of God was obeyed halfheartedly, and to make things worse, he had declared himself openly to be the Messiah... Well, this was not prohibited; many a preacher did that. God would take care of them and punish the impostors, people thought. But in the case of the other supposed and self-declared Messiahs, the populace favored one of them today, another one tomorrow, and so on. Jesus, however, had made his way right into the hearts of some of the pillars of the Pharisees, and that was dangerous.
So you should not be too surprised that several Pharisee leaders met to devise a plan with the objective of cutting off, once and for all, the annoying career of the northern “Messiah.” And their plan was ingenious. They would confront the supposed Messiah with a question, which would leave him silent and make him blush with shame, an inquiry that would crumble his house of cards built on lies. Then they would open up a wound and poke unceasingly in it, until the impostor would get out of the city limits in order to try his luck deceiving those silly peasants who would not ask him too many questions, exactly as the other pseudo-messiahs did. Then, time would take care of his teachings, burying them under a thick layer of oblivion.
That day, then, which I was describing to you, a small delegation of Pharisees stood before Jesus in the market. Their appearance attracted a great number of curious people. Don’t forget that in that time there was no television or radio; people knew almost nothing about distant countries, but they were very well informed of the local gossip. And the confrontation between a foreign preacher and a group of local Pharisees promised to be an amusing display that would fuel discussions and laughter for many days to come.
The Pharisee dignitaries planted themselves in front of the Master with an air of arrogance, saying:
“Listen, Galilean, we have been told that you claim to be the Messiah of God, and that you believe that this gives you the right to travel all over the country as a preacher, ignorant as you are and lacking fitting preparation. Don’t you know that the Messiah is the descendant of David? How, then, can you possibly be the Messiah?”
Jesus raised his eyes to the spokesman in surprise. He had been immersed in a discussion with one of his listeners and had not noticed the coming of the Pharisee challengers. The abrupt and rude tone of their words hurt us, but the Master glanced at us, asking us silently to keep out of the events. He would take care of the situation.
The eyes of the bystanders sparked with excited expectation. This was exactly the situation they loved: Two competitors, circling around each other, throwing sharp words, like the kicks of fighting cocks that opened up deep wounds with their spurs, until one of the fighters escaped horrified and defeated, and the other one crowed his victory with swollen breast.
Jesus quickly recovered from his bewilderment. He looked at them with a smile on his lips.
“I am honored by the visit of masters of the Scriptures of your stature,” he told them with an inviting gesture and words dripping with honey. “And enjoying the honor of your visit, I would like to ask you to explain to me the following.”
Jesus had taken up the gauntlet cast by the Pharisees.
“According to your words, I understand that the Messiah is David’s son.”
“According to our words?” the Pharisees repeated mockingly. “‘According to the Scriptures’ would be better for you to say.”
Jesus smiled and finished them off sweetly:
“How then, can you explain to me that David when inspired by the Spirit calls him Lord? He says: The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I put thine enemies underneath thy feet? If David then calls him Lord, how can he be his son? Do you really believe that a father would call his son ‘Lord?’”
The dumbfounded Pharisees swallowed saliva and babbled in search of an answer. They were caught in a great dilemma. They could either admit that the Messiah could not be simply a descendant of David, or that David had not written this Psalm. Then the author of the Psalm, a servant of David, would have written: The Lord (God) said unto my Lord (David). Otherwise, if David was the author of the Psalm, the meaning would be that the Lord (God) said unto my Lord (the Messiah). This last version was, however, exactly what the Pharisees used to teach. At last, one of them opened his mouth and returned:
“There is one explanation. It could be that this Psalm in particular was not written by David...”
“How, then, do you manage things?” retorted Jesus with a reproachful look in his eyes. “Do you base your teachings on the Scriptures, or must the Scriptures cede and adjust, when your teachings are in trouble?”
“We had better go!” said one of the quarrelers, and they all left with their heads down, and the laughter of the bystanders exploded. We could not contain our laughter either. But I admit that I was confused.
“Master,” I enquired, “why didn’t you simply tell them that you are a son of David, born in Bethlehem?”
“Judas,” Jesus answered, “they read words, but they don’t eat them. Do you understand me?”
I didn’t understand. He looked at me with sad eyes, and laying his hands on my shoulders he said to me: “Judas, my friend!”
Now I understand him. What Jesus meant was that these Pharisees studied the Scriptures, but they gave them their interpretation according to convenience. Words, of themselves, are like empty bags. There comes a strong wind, and they wave with it. There comes a different wind, and they turn around and wave happily in a different direction. Exactly as the Pharisees in our example: They used to teach Psalm 110 as the carrier of a messianic message; however, they quickly changed their opinion when the situation required it.
What are words anyway in comparison with the Messiah’s very presence? But people who focus only on the scrutiny of words and the interpretation of the Scriptures have no eyes for the teachings and deeds of the Messiah when they actually chance to meet him. This was so then. This is so now. They are the eyes that are open and see nothing; the ears that are open and hear nothing.
“Judas, my friend!” he said to me. There are people who claim that I was the only apostle whom Jesus called his friend. So it appears in the Bible. Of course, this is not true. The Master had many friends, and I am proud to say that I belonged to this group. And I am even prouder that I have the honor of stating that I am closer to him now than ever.
But now I would like to direct your attention to another fact. The incident that I have just narrated is also described in the Bible. But there, it is related a little differently. There, Jesus starts the discussion and leaves the Pharisees without answers.
This fact has led many Bible critics to assume that Jesus was attacked with the imputation that he was not a descendant of David, and that he had not found another defense than the one described in the incident; a very skillful defense, by the way. However, it let see the truthfulness of the imputation: That he was not an offspring of David, and therefore, the story of his birth in Bethlehem and all the accompanying circumstances were later inventions to strip opponents, that is to say, the Jews, of arguments.
This conclusion is not true, and I hope I have contributed with my message to clarify the true facts that led to the formulation of the story, as it now appears in the Bible - in its true context, in its true time.
This story, and several more which are similar, would lead to some consequences that I will describe in my next message. For now, this message is already long enough. You have written much.
I thank you for your time and interest, and I hope you may give me soon another opportunity for telling Jesus’ story from my angle of view.
With much love,
© Copyright is asserted in this message by Geoff Cutler 2013