Taxes, heaven, and top commandment
God’s Kingdom is like a banquet1 Once again, Jesus started teaching the people with parables. He said, 2 “Here’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. A king put together a wedding feast for his son. 3 Then the king sent his servants out to tell the invited guests that it was time to come and eat. But the guests wouldn’t come. 4 Then the king sent out another group of servants. He gave them these orders: ‘Tell the guests, “Look, I prepared this banquet for you. I’ve slaughtered and cooked my oxen and calves who were fattened for this banquet. Everything is ready. Come and get it.”’ 5 But the guests ignored the message. They just turned and walked off. One went to his farm. Another went to his business. 6 Some guests actually grabbed the servants, shamefully abused them, and then killed them. 7 The king was absolutely livid. He mobilized his militia, which captured and killed the murderers and then burned their city to the dirt. 8 The king told his servants, ‘Well, the wedding banquet is ready to eat, but as it turns out, the people we invited aren’t fit to eat it. 9 So, doggone it, get out there and hit the busy roads. Invite anyone you can find to come and join us. Tell them we’re having a wedding banquet and they’re invited. 10 So the servants hit the road and brought back everyone they could find, the damnable and the honorable. These people packed the wedding banquet venue. 11 When the king came to join the party and meet the guests, he noticed one man who hadn’t bothered to dress up in clothes fit for a wedding. 12 The king said to the man, ‘Buddy, how on earth did you get in here dressed like that?’ The man didn’t know what to say. 13 The king told his associates, ‘Tie this guy up, hands and feet. Then toss him into the darkness outside where folks will be crying and grinding their teeth.’ 14 Many are invited. But not many are chosen.”
Should we pay Roman tax?15 The Pharisees tried to figure out a way to trap Jesus into saying something that would get him in trouble. 16 They sent some of their people along with Herodians to ask him a question: 17 “Teacher, we know that you tell it like it is—fair and balanced and true. You say what God wants you to say. You don’t bow to pressure from anyone to do otherwise. So tell us this, is it legal to pay taxes to Caesar? Yes or no.” 18 Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Oh come on now, you hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the kind of coin you use to pay your taxes.” They brought him a denarius. 20 Jesus said, “Whose picture is engraved on this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said, “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give God what belongs to God.” 22 That answer left the Jewish leaders amazed. They walked away.
Trick question about marriage in heaven23 That same day, some Sadducees came over to ask Jesus a question. Sadducees are people who don’t believe in a resurrection or in life after death. 24 They said, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a married man dies and doesn’t have any children, his brother has to marry the widow and give her children, which he raises as his brother’s kids.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers in the family. The first one married and died before his wife had any children. The second brother married the widow. 26 The same thing happened to the second brother, the third brother, and all the way through to the seventh. None of the seven brothers gave the woman any children. 27 Eventually, the woman died, too. 28 So please do tell us. In the life after death, which brother will be married to this woman?” 29 Jesus said, “You got it wrong. You don’t know the Scriptures. And you don’t have a clue about how powerful God is. 30 People who rise from the dead don’t get married. In that way, they’re like the angels. 31 About the resurrection itself, haven’t you read what God said to you? 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’? He’s not the God of the dead. He’s the God of the living.” 33 The crowd heard this. The teaching astonished them.
God’s biggest and best rule34 Pharisees heard that Jesus shut the Sadducees up, but good. So the Pharisees called another meeting. 35 One of the Pharisees, a scholar and an expert in Jewish law, decided to give it a go. He would try to trick Jesus with a tough question. So he asked Jesus, 36 “Teacher of all the commandments in our Jewish law, which one is most important?” 37 Jesus said,
“You’ve got to love the Lord your God
with all the heart you’ve got in you,
all the spirit in your soul,
all your strength, and all your mind.
40 Without these two laws, our Bible is worthless. There would be no reason to read the books of Law or the books of the Prophets.”
Jesus has a question for Pharisees41 With the Pharisees still clustered around him, Jesus asked them a question. 42 “What are you thinking about the Messiah? What family will he come from?” They said, “He comes from David’s family.” 43 Jesus said, “Oh really? Then why would David, speaking under the guidance of the Spirit, call his younger relative ‘Master.’ David said this:
‘God said to my Master:
“Come over here and sit right beside me.
Relax because I’m going to turn your enemies
into a footrest for you.”’
Herodians were members of a Jewish political party focused on restoring the family dynasty of King Herod the Great. Most Jews however were interested in restoring the family dynasty of King David and putting one of his descendants on the throne of an independent Jewish nation. By the time Jesus started his ministry, Romans had been occupying and controlling the Jewish homeland for approaching a century. Neither the kingdom of Herod or David was ever restored. The Jews did not regain their homeland and declare their independence until 1948. For most of the past 2,000 years, Muslim Arabs controlled the land.
The coin was a Roman denarius, silver, weighing about 4 grams. That’s about the weight of a nickel or half of a euro. A denarius was apparently a common salary at the time for a day’s work.
Which is why some might say they call it heaven. Couldn’t resist.
God didn’t say “I was the God of Abraham.” That’s past tense. God phrased himself in the present tense, which works nicely with his name: “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
Pharisees may have been happy that Jesus defeated the Sadducees because Jesus defended the idea of life after death. Pharisees believed in life after death, but Sadducees did not. Pharisees, however, did want to see someone manage to shut Jesus up.
Some rabbis taught that only fellow Jews were the neighbors God had in mind. That law in Leviticus 19:18 seems to support that because in context the verse is talking about the Jewish people. But Leviticus 19:34 adds non-Jews to the category of neighbor. Still, it was hard for many Jews to embrace the Roman occupiers as neighbors. One of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls from Roman times urges Jews to “love the sons of light…and hate all the sons of darkness.” Many Jews linked Romans with the “sons of darkness.”
In the parable about the “wedding banquet” (21:1-14), what might lead you to believe that the people who got the first invitation but rejected it might represent Jewish leaders? Luke’s version of the story, by the way, takes place at a Sabbath meal some Pharisees hosted for Jesus (Luke 14:1; 15-24).
Just for fun, let’s say the people in the story who made excuses not to come to the meal represent Jews who refused to embrace the teachings of Jesus. What excuses do you think Jews of that generation made for not joining the Jesus-is-Messiah movement that became the Christian church?
In Jesus’s story about the huge meal, the people who ended up sitting around the table were “the damnable and the honorable” (22:10) along with “the poor, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:21) and anyone else the host’s slaves could find out on the roads and in the farmland. Who do you think those people represented?
Jews who asked Jesus the trick question about taxes (22:17) thought he could answer it only one of two ways. (1) Tell the Jews to pay their Roman taxes, and risk alienating Jews who wanted to get the Romans out of the Jewish homeland. (2) Tell the Jews they didn’t need to use their money to fund a pagan empire, and risk the wrath of the Roman government. How do you think Jesus could have gotten in trouble with either one of those answers?
Jesus said, “People who rise from the dead don’t get married. In that way, they’re like the angels” (12:25). How do you think most folks would feel about that?
Jesus argues that Moses at least hinted at the resurrection when he quoted God as saying, “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (22:32). Not I was the God of these men. Respectfully, do you think Jesus might have stretched the grammar a little too much?
What point do you think Jesus was trying to make by suggesting the Messiah does not need to be the son of David (Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44)?
LIFE APPLICATION. People who are not affiliated with any religion often argue that churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship should have to pay taxes like all other institutions that are not publicly owned by city, state, or federal government. Should religion organizations give to Caesar their fair share rather than ask everyone else to pitch in and pay the extra required to run the government?
LIFE APPLICATION. Some Jews apparently taught that when God told us to love our neighbor the way we love ourselves, he was talking about fellow Jews. (See the footnote for 22:39.) Are we like that? Are we more likely to help someone within our inner circle of friends and family than we are to help a stranger who crosses our path who is in desperate need?