Posts Tagged ‘Sadducees’

MATTHEW 22:34-46

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Pharisees and Sadducees were two Judaic parties that comprised the Jewish high court called the Sanhedrin. Pharisees came out of the middle class and were devoted advocates of Mosaic Law. Sadducees were upper-class leaders very similar to the evangelical Republicans of our day, seeking to keep the privileges of wealth, conservative morals, and state protections of religion (their own) at the forefront of the court’s concern. The two parties thus represented two different belief systems, and each looked for opportunities to undermine or throw negative light on the other.

Both parties were also suspicious of Jesus and his kingdom movement, and for characteristically different reasons. The Sadducees regarded Jesus and his band as a potentially dangerous uprising of lower-class sentiment. It often happened that rebels (many also from Galilee) would organize themselves against Roman control and instigate protests or more violent attempts at revolution. If Jesus was one of them, his activity in and around Jerusalem could attract unwelcome Roman attention and interfere with the Sadducean agenda of maintaining the status quo.

The Pharisees were disturbed by the fact that Jesus seemed unconcerned about following the letter of the Law. He frequently opposed them outright and publicly, accusing the Pharisees of being more concerned with maintaining moral righteousness and ritual purity than with liberating the human spirit. If Jesus was willing to overlook or dismiss just one of the Mosaic commandments, they would have grounds to falsify the entire body of his teaching and ruin his reputation in the process.

So they asked him a trick question: What’s the greatest commandment in the law? Choosing one would mean discarding all others, and refusing to answer would expose Jesus as an incompetent teacher. Which is it – Stay clean? Rest on the Sabbath? Keep your distance from sinners?

And what did Jesus say in reply? Love God with all that you are, and love others as if they were you.

MATTHEW 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

To the degree that the portrait of John the baptist in the Gospels is confirmed also in the report on first-century religious and political movements given by the Jewish historian Josephus, we can say that John stood rather squarely in the tradition of what we earlier called an exclusionist messianism.

The Gospels themselves don’t give us any suggestion that John reached out beyond the boundary of Jewish identity, though he did attract a remarkably large following of Jews from just about every walk of life.

Both his geographical and ideological proximity to the sectarian group known as the Essenes places him as a possible one-time adherent of their community. His message marked a strategic departure from the sectarian outlook, however, in that he offered repentance with a requirement of formal sect membership through world-renunciation.

Upon repentance and their ritual washing in the Jordan, those responding to John’s call were sent back into their work-a-day world with a new ethic – not of separatism but fairness, honesty, and charity on behalf of the needy.

John’s concept of how the messianic age would come, and to what effect, was less kind to Pharisees and Sadducees – at least as Matthew tells the story. Their so-called leadership among the Jewish people had only magnified the law’s burden and depressed the human spirit. Both were in agreement that salvation needed to be officially mediated – by the law (Pharisees) or by the temple (Sadducees).

                                                                         

The Gospel writers inform us later on that John eventually grew somewhat disillusioned with Jesus and sent a delegation of disciples to inquire whether he was really the messiah of their expectation.

As far as his original insight was concerned – that the messiah of God’s in-breaking kingdom would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire – John was right on the mark. But once again, he was mistaken over the ultimate outcome.

John was anticipating that Jesus (or the messiah of his expectation) would cast the unrepentant moral reprobates of the world into the “unquenchable fire” of God’s wrath – and that’s where he got it wrong. Jesus did not, in fact, bring God’s vengeance but God’s forgiveness. And forgiveness, at least as Jesus understood and advocated it, is something that does not compute in the calculations of a black-and-white worldview.

But as a figure, John serve as the historical bridge from the moral paradigm of conventional religion (represented in the story of Judaism) to the mystical paradigm of esoteric religion. This move from membership to spirituality, from orthodoxy to enlightenment, and from an ethic of duty to an ethic of compassion, is a passage that faith must make in its progress to maturity and fulfillment.