This section is one of endless controversy, from Jesus' cleansing of the temple to his commendation of the widow who gave all. Even this woman, whom her culture sees as a helpless nobody, stands for Jesus in a favorable contrast to the Pharisees and the wealthy. The various debates in this section are attempts to trap Jesus, especially in light of the leadership's reaction to the temple cleansing. Jesus offers two rebuttals, one in a parable showing that the leadership is on the way out and another in a short question designed to focus on Messiah's lordship authority.
Make no mistake about this final section. It shows a battle for the claim to lead God's people. The leadership thinks it has earned that right. Jesus suggests it has been his, as David's heir, all along. Given Jesus' view of himself and the leaders' inability to trip him up, they will move to stop him. Their action will appear to work at first, only to undergo a miraculous reversal. The entire unit raises the question, Where does God's authority reside?
This event is like a stick of dynamite in the relationship between Jesus and the leadership. As if throwing a flame onto oil, Jesus raises the issue of his authority most directly by his act of cleansing the temple. In fact, the leadership clearly sees this as the issue, as 20:1-8 makes clear. Their plotting in verses 47-48 follows the cleansing and shows the action's importance in pushing them to act. In the other Synoptic Gospels, when the trials of Jesus start it is his attitude toward the temple that is the prosecution's launching point.
The custom Jesus attacks is the selling of various items necessary for sacrifice: animals, wine, oil, salt and doves (Jn 2:14; m. Seqalim 1:3; 2:1, 4; Eppstein  notes that some of these practices may have been just recently moved into the temple courts). Money changers also collected Roman and Greek coins and exchanged them for the half-shekel temple tax required by the Torah (Ex 30:11-14). The exchange had a built-in surcharge, a portion of which may have gone to the high priest's family.
Is the cleansing of the temple prophetic or messianic? It must be admitted that little in the event itself has a messianic character. But its literary and temporal juxtaposition to the entry is crucial to an understanding of its character. Jesus has just left a dispute over whether the disciples should call him king--a confession he accepted. Now he is acting on the temple. Though his temple actions are prophetic in character, his acceptance of the earlier acclaim cannot be ignored. The confession is still ringing in his opponents' ears.
Many historical-critical scholars are used to treating events in Jesus' life in isolation from each other, as independent units of tradition. However, in the case of these Jerusalem events of Jesus' last week of ministry, such a separation is historically artificial. The connection between Jesus' entry and his first public act in the temple should not be ignored. The linkage makes Jesus' act one of messianic and prophetic authority. It may well be that Jesus acts here as a leader-prophet, much like Moses.
Now prophets, even those like John the Baptist, could be tolerated. But a prophet who also saw himself as a king had to be stopped, especially if he was going to impose himself on the nation's worship. If the nation had to repent for its actions at the temple, the priests would have to acknowledge their own culpability before God. They could not accept such a challenge to their authority.
Luke's version of this event is very concise. He does not supply many details the other Gospels include, especially the descriptions of how physical Jesus' actions were. Rather, Luke goes right to the heart of the event, focusing on Jesus' rebuke with its Old Testament allusions: "It is written," he says, " `My house will be a house of prayer,' but you have made it `a den of robbers.' " The quote combines Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. Isaiah expresses the hope that the temple will be a house for all the nations, while Jeremiah condemns the Israelites' hypocrisy and injustice as they worship at the temple. (Interestingly, here Luke does not develop the point about Gentiles, even though he loves the theme.) The Jeremiah speech is one of that prophet's most scathing. It calls the Jewish people "robbers," bandits just like the thieves of Luke 10:30.
It may well be, given Jesus' lament and the leadership's protest which precede this event, that Jesus' rebuke for hypocrisy is not limited to commercial practices in the temple but extends to the nation's refusal to worship God and recognize the day of visitation. Either way, Jesus is the issue, and the subject is properly honoring God. Israel thinks God is honored at the temple. Jesus claims the exact opposite. The nation is divided; choices are required. They cannot both represent God's will. The warning also illustrates the danger of combining religiosity and commercialism at the expense of true worship--a danger to which we also must be sensitive today.
The leaders begin trying to kill Jesus before he becomes even more dangerous (the Greek means "to destroy"). The plot to get Jesus, originally raised in 6:11 and 11:53-54, is hardening. Something must be done. Jesus is appearing at the temple daily. But because of his popularity the leaders cannot yet act. All the people hung on his words. Believing they have power, the leaders are in fact powerless to act until they get a break. That break will come from within the ranks of Jesus' inner circle.
Nothing has changed between Jesus' declaration that the nation's house is desolate (13:34-35) and his weeping for the nation upon entering the city (19:41). The nation's rejection, like the plot against Jesus, has hardened into resolve--and as sin calcifies it becomes even more dangerous. The "Jesus problem" goes in search of a "final solution." But like the Iron Curtain, this attempt to control the situation through isolation and containment will fail; even death cannot hold God's agent back from doing God's will.
Today religious claims are a dime a dozen. If you survey the media it is not hard to find all types of claims about what God is doing. Ultimately the issue is not the claim but what stands behind it.
The Pharisees' question about Jesus' religious authority is in many ways a natural one. He has had no official training. He comes from Galilee, an area not known for its religious instruction or anything else of stature (Jn 7:52). He has never sat under a rabbi. Where does his authority come from? How can he justify the things he has been doing? This is really a fundamental question for the entire Gospel (4:32, 36; 5:24; 9:1; 10:19). It also opens a series of five controversies in 20:1-44. In these disputes the answer to the Pharisees' question becomes obvious, even though no direct reply is offered here. Though an answer is not forthcoming from Jesus, anyone who has followed Luke's story up to this point knows the reply, which is why Jesus' analogy with John the Baptist is so powerful. By whose authority does Jesus do these things? He responds, By the same authority John the Baptist possessed.
This controversy arises as Jesus is teaching in the temple, something he is doing daily (19:47). The fact that Jesus is teaching the gospel shows that his message has never changed. But the leadership wants to know the basis for Jesus' actions. Whether it is his teaching or his cleansing of the temple, where did he get the right to do such things? In Greek the question puts by what authority (en poia exousia) in the emphatic position, at the front of the question. In the questioners' view the leadership represents God's will and has the right to teach it. Where does Jesus get the right to challenge their teaching?
In good Jewish and Hellenistic fashion, Jesus answers the query with one of his own. This style of disputation was popular in the ancient world. It was designed to show who could ask the wiser question and expose weaknesses in the opponent. Such an approach also produced reflection about the proper approach to a problem. Jesus' question is a simple one: "John's baptism--was it from heaven, or from men?" The question is both obvious and subtle. By dealing with a public action, he has excluded a war of words merely over public claims, titles or credentials. There will be no appeal to derived authority by means of lineage or mere assertion. Did John give evidence that God stood behind his deeds? Only two options exist: either he did or he did not. The subtlety in the question lies not only in its appeal to concrete events but also in the popular consensus that has developed. The multitudes know the answer to this question: John came from God. God's presence manifested itself clearly in his ministry. Rejection of that conclusion can only reflect blindness.
So the leadership is in a dilemma, since they had not responded to John. They caucus to determine an answer. Either way of replying would leave them exposed. If they acknowledged divine authority, they would be hurting on two counts. First, they would raise the question why they had not embraced John. Second, they would concede a major point to Jesus: that one need not come from the Jerusalem school of rabbinic studies in order to teach the way of God.
Now the text only mentions the first reason, but surely the leadership senses the trap and knows that more than a historical religious dispute about John is wrapped up in the question. Jesus is building a solid analogy, and the leaders want to stay out of that building.
However, if they took the other option and said "From men," they would run the risk of being stoned, because the people know John was a prophet. Though the concern about stoning may be figurative for the rejection their answer would face, technically to reject a true prophet of God did merit stoning (Deut 13:1-11).
Faced with a catch-22 and sensing they have been successfully cornered, the leaders do what politicians often do when faced with a no-win situation: they dance around the query and refuse to take a position. Fence-sitting is always a tempting option when one is faced with a losing proposition. The leaders' private dialogue reveals the blatant hypocrisy of their answer. Clearly they regard John's authority as simply human, but they don't have the nerve to tell the crowd so. Rather than acknowledge their view and its unpopularity, they try to finesse the question. By doing so, they give up any moral ground for challenging Jesus. If they cannot decide about John, how can they decide about Jesus?
Jesus refuses to answer their original question, though the force of his analogy in his reply is obvious. The power behind Jesus is like that behind John. God has stood behind the actions of both, as Luke's narration had already made clear. In this case Jesus' silence lets the story of his ministry speak for itself. Claims of authority are not necessary since authoritative actions mark his entire ministry like giant footprints. Religious claims may be a dime a dozen, but some claims prove themselves to be true.
In this face-to-face battle, like a shootout in the Old West, the leadership had tried to destroy Jesus. But after the two sides had marked off their ten paces and turned to fire their questions, it was the leaders who blinked.
As a child and now as a parent, I have always enjoyed story time. I enjoyed hearing stories as a child, and I have received the special fun that comes from telling and acting out stories with a rich variety of voices for my children. There is something special about sitting on a parent's knee or watching a child's eyes light up as a story is read. Even more, if the story is a good one, it does more than just entertain: a lesson comes with it.
When Jesus turns to review Israel's history of response to God, he presents that history through a story, a parable. This final parable in Luke is really an allegory. Where a parable may have one to three points of contact with reality, an allegory has a whole set of correspondences to reality (Blomberg 1990). Since there are many points of correspondence between this story and the history of God's activity in salvation, it really is an allegory. Like many of Jesus' parables, it is a rebuke to Israel, especially its leadership (v. 19). But the people also reject the story (v. 16). So it is unlike a parent-child story time in that the message is not a pleasant one for the audience. Nonetheless, there is a point to the story, a lesson to be learned. Though the Son will be removed through death, the promise will not remain in the leadership's hands; it will go to others. They can destroy neither the Son nor the promise.
Jesus opens the story by referring to a vineyard. This image is rich with Old Testament and Jewish background, alluding to the presence of promise in Israel (Ps 80:8-13; Is 5:1-7; 27:2; Jer 2:21; Ezek 19:10-14; Hos 10:1; 1 Enoch 10:16; 84:6; 93:5). When Jesus places tenants in the story, he enriches the Old Testament imagery by setting up the role of the nation and leadership as caretakers for the promise. This addition is significant because the parable concludes with the vineyard given to others, a reference to Gentile inclusion in the promise.
The servants represent the series of prophets whom the nation rejected. This theme has been constant in Luke (11:47-51; 13:31-35; Acts 7). The concept builds on texts such as Jeremiah 7:21-28 and is Jesus' response to the plot of Luke 19:47. The nation is a poor tenant, lacking fruit and abusing those sent to check on its work (13:6-9). The calls for fruit and repentance for its absence have gone unheeded--in fact, they have been rejected and ignored. Three times the owner's representatives are cast out. There is no significance in the number three other than to point out that God sent prophets to the nation repeatedly.
The vineyard owner, God, decides to send "my son, whom I love" (3:22; 9:35), hoping that the stubborn tenants will at least respect him. The owner anticipates that his son's visit will be fruitful. But with logic that illustrates sin's blindness, the tenants decide that if they slay the son, they will inherit the land. When land belonged to someone without an heir, inheritance followed a certain custom: when the owner died, the land usually passed on to those who worked the land. Their scheme, of course, assumes that the murderers will not be discovered. There is a major blind spot in their thinking. Given their past track record with the owner's servants, wouldn't these tenants be among the first murder suspects? Hardness of heart does strange things. So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him, an allusion to Jesus' death outside Jerusalem. Jesus knows the leaders have rejected him so that death is his fate. In Luke's telling of the parable, the violence steadily increases as each messenger comes. The rejection is firmer all the time. The nation has gone the opposite direction from repentance.
So what will the owner do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. The vineyard goes to those outside the leadership, even the nation, as the promise will encompass many people of the nations. Acts fills in this part of the story, though it is also clear that Israel still has a place in God's plan (Acts 1:6-11; 3:18-22; Rom 11:25-27). The point of God's judgment on the nation is clear as the crowd responds, "May this never be!" The point is clear and shocking to all--this should never happen, they respond. Yet this very act of murder is days away from taking place!
A Scripture sums up the lesson. Jesus cites Psalm 118:22 and asks why it is recorded there: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (NIV margin). This psalm, already cited in 13:35 and 19:38, indicates that God will vindicate his rejected leader. This building-stone imagery made a great impact on the church (Acts 4:11; Rom 9:32-33; 1 Pet 2:7). The psalm uses the symbolism of the foundation stone that is crucial to a building. Jesus is the foundation stone of God's plan. Though some may reject him, God will make him the centerpiece of his plan. Rejection by the Jewish nation is not the end of the plan. There is no replacing this precious and chosen stone.
In fact, judgment resides with "the rock." To fall on that stone is to be broken to pieces. When the stone falls on someone, it crushes. The point is clear: anyone opposing God's stone will be crushed by it. A Jewish proverb has a similar thrust: "If the stone falls on the pot, alas for the pot; if the pot falls on the stone, alas for the pot!" (Midrash Esther 3:6). Imagery for the passage does not allude to a specific text, though the concept is reminiscent of Isaiah 8:14 and Daniel 2:34-44. Rejecting the "beloved Son" has grave consequences--not for the Son, since he will be raised up by God, but for those who reject him. The parable is Jesus' statement regarding the source of his authority. He is the beloved Son, and God will vindicate him and exalt him. His death will be followed by resurrection and exaltation into a place of authority (Acts 2:22-39).
The leadership wanted to seize Jesus on the spot. They knew he had told the parable against them. They could not allow their authority to be challenged anymore. Still, the problem was Jesus' popularity. So opinion polls caused a degree of restraint but did not bring a change in resolve. They would find a way to get Jesus, despite his clear indication that the ultimate outcome would be their dashing themselves against God's precious cornerstone. You cannot kill a solid rock.
The next controversy is political and is a clever attempt to get Jesus into trouble either with Rome or with the Jews. The background is the "poll tax," which symbolized the Jewish subjugation to Rome, a sensitive social issue. Nationalist Jews questioned whether the poll tax should be paid, since it went directly to Rome. On one reading of the leaders' test of Jesus, they were really asking Jesus whether he was loyal to Rome or to God's nation, Israel.
The question's setting is clearly hostile. Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. The entire effort is hypocritical. Appearing to ask a sincere question, they are really trying to set a trap. To add to the hypocrisy, they flatter Jesus, saying that he does not show partiality and teaches God's way truly. If they really feel this way, why have they not become followers of Jesus? Such shallow flattery is similar to the arguments of those who say Jesus is a great teacher but ignore his claims to unique authority.
Nonetheless, the question is whether the tax should be paid. Jesus pursues the answer, even though he is aware of their duplicity (the Greek term panourgia really refers to trickery [Bauernfeind 1967:726]). His answer will frustrate and expose their hypocrisy at the same time.
Jesus asks them to produce a coin. The fact that they carry the coin reading "Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of divine Augustus," shows that they already function under Roman sovereignty. The denarius was about the size of a dime and was the average pay for a day's labor. The men carry these coins as a matter of course. When Jesus asks whose inscription is on it, they reply, "Caesar's."
Jesus' reply is brief: "Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Government has the right to exist and function, but its presence does not cancel out one's allegiance to God (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17). To what had been posed as an either-or question Jesus gives a both-and answer, avoiding the trap.
There are many points the passage does not discuss. What happens when there is a blatant moral conflict between the affairs of state and one's union to God? The reply does not endorse a doctrine of separation of church and state, as if these were two totally distinct spheres. What it does suggest is that government, even a pagan government, has the right to exist and be supported by all its citizens. Its existence is not an inherent violation of Christians' commitment to God. The passage does reject the Jewish Zealot approach. Jesus was not a political revolutionary, nor was he an ardent nationalist. He could not have rightly been charged with being politically subversive, though his opponents will misrepresent his words to make this charge in 23:2-3.
Once again, an attempt to trap Jesus has failed. His work transcends politics. His opponents are unable to trap him in his reply. In fact, they are silenced by his response. Frantic attempts to corner Jesus have failed. Another way to get him has to be found. A final point emerges from the drama: Jesus looks to be wiser than the leadership. He knows God's way; they do not.
It's easy to assume that questions about resurrection and life after death are modern concerns. Surely only the Enlightenment's empiricist tendencies led to such doubts. Weren't the ancients all very open and malleable when it came to the supernatural? The theological controversy presented to Jesus next shows how wrong such thinking about the ancient world is.
The Sadducees, who ask Jesus about the wife of seven men through levirate marriage, did not believe in resurrection or in the existence of angels (Josephus Jewish Wars 2.8.14 163-65; Antiquities 13.10.6 297-98; 18.1.4 16-17; Meyer 1971). For these priestly and lay aristocrats, who controlled much of the religious and political situation in first-century Israel and whose rich heritage stemmed back to Zadok, the natural world and the Torah were the only religious authorities (Ezek 40:46; 43:19; Josephus Antiquities 18.1.1 4; Fitzmyer 1985:1302-3). The Sadducees were ideological rivals to the Pharisees. Their movement collapsed in A.D. 70, and the Pharisees took control from them. So all our descriptions of them come from those of the prevailing party, the Pharisees. They reacted strongly against the oral Torah of the Pharisees and were theologically conservative in their commitment to the Torah alone, yet they were very pragmatic in their relations with Rome, possibly because of their high social status. In the sense that modernist religion abandons any supernatural belief and keeps only moralism, then the Sadducees were modernists. Thus the controversy is important not only among the ancient Jewish camps but also for modern times. This is the Sadducees' only appearance in Luke's Gospel, but their effort here means that most of the major Jewish groups have taken their swing at Jesus.
The law of levirate marriage was designed to perpetuate the line of descent for a man who had died childless (Deut 25:5; Ruth 4:1-12; m. Yebamot). If a man died without progeny, his brother would take his widow as his own wife and raise their children in the name of the deceased brother. Preserving the line of descent also kept land in the family, so numerous social consequences resulted from the practice.
Hoping to embarrass Jesus theologically, the Sadducees use the practice of levirate marriage to pose a question with a satirical edge. They are trying to show how foolish resurrection teaching is. Their question seeks to discredit resurrection much like another text, t. Niddah 70b, which asks whether the dead need to be ritually cleansed after resurrection since their contact with the dead and the grave renders them unclean. The question shows how carefully such issues were considered. This was no trivial matter for them.
So a man's brother dies married and childless, and the brother takes up his familial duty, marrying the widow. The only problem is that this man also dies childless. In fact, a total of seven brothers come and go as the woman's husbands, yet no children are produced. The superstitious person might wonder whether marriage to this woman was hazardous to one's health! Finally the woman dies. On the premise that resurrection follows, "whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?" The dilemma is clear. This woman has too many men to be responsible to and for in heaven! The Sadducees have fired their best theological shot, and it looks pretty damaging.
Numerous premises stand behind the question: (1) Relationships in the afterlife will be like those in this life. (2) The absurdity of the woman's dilemma reveals the absurdity of resurrection. (3) With the possible exception of levirate responsibility, monogamy was recommended--a key point since this woman has been committed in marriage seven times!
Jesus' reply undercuts the basic premise before stating emphatic support for resurrection: "Those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die, for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection." After the resurrection relationships change. "Putting on immortality" means there is no more need to create new mortals (1 Cor 15:50-54). With God as Father, families are no longer necessary. There is no more death, nor is there any need to worry about continuing one's family line. This makes the afterlife a new paradigm of existence to which the problem the Sadducees have posed is irrelevant. People do not marry in the afterlife, and the issue of whose spouse the woman is becomes vacuous.
By mentioning the angels, Jesus has made a second dig at the ancient modernists. The Sadducees also denied the existence of the spirit world (Acts 23:8). Jesus' point is that resurrection life takes on the qualities of eternity and sheds the limitations of mortality. The Sadducees' lack of appreciation for the new dimensions of resurrection existence, not to mention their hesitation to embrace alternate forms of existence at all, has caused them to frame a question that exposes their ignorance. Their denial of the spirit world is significant, since God himself is spirit. This is why Jesus says being like an angel means being a child of God in resurrection. The transformation of resurrection is what makes eternal life possible.
In fact, Jesus goes on, to deny resurrection is to deny the teaching of Scripture, such as that revealed at the burning bush. When Moses, years after the patriarchs died, called the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, he was asserting the continued existence of the patriarchs. Here Jesus exploits an absent verb in the Old Testament passage. God is the God of the patriarchs. That conclusion follows on another premise: "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." For Moses to speak about God's relationship to the patriarchs means that they must be alive--and raised. The beauty of this allusion to Exodus 3:2-6 is that Jesus argues for resurrection from within the Torah, the only portion of Scripture that counted for a Sadducee. God's promises live on for the patriarchs because they still live. In fact, life is in his sovereign hands, and all live for him.
Luke notes that some of the Jews--Pharisees in all likelihood--commend his reply. And having failed to trap Jesus politically and theologically, his opponents stop asking Jesus questions. Jesus has passed his oral exams too well. They will have to find another way to trap him.
This passage is important because it shows again that Jesus' understanding of God's way and will is superior to his opponents' perception. In addition it shows Jesus' affirmation of a resurrection and an afterlife that is different from life now in certain particulars. There is no reincarnation, nor is this life all there is. In the face of modern doubts about resurrection and rising belief in reincarnation and other theories of cosmic recirculation, this text makes it clear that this life is our one mortal moment and that after it we are accountable to God for how we have spent it. Death is not the end, only a beginning. The question is, the beginning of what? Only one's response to Jesus determines the answer to that question. Childless levirate wives need not worry which man is their husband. All should worry whether they are a child of God.
Who is Jesus? Who is the Messiah? For Christians this is one of the basic questions of faith. This passage deals with that question by noting a short controversy between Jesus and the leadership. Previous attempts to stump him had failed, but now Jesus will silence his opponents with a question about the most important figure in Jewish promise, the Son of David, Messiah. It is Jesus' turn to ask a question and seek answers. How will the leadership fare in the hot seat?
Jesus raises a rabbinic antinomy. The question is asked both before and after a quotation of Psalm 110:1. "How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms, `The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' David calls him `Lord.' How then can he be his son?" Jesus' goal is not to deny either premise but to show a relationship between two concepts that otherwise might appear to be in tension. In effect, Jesus is saying, more important than Jesus being David's son is that he is David's Lord. Or to answer Jesus' final question: that he is David's son is less significant (as significant as this is) than that he is David's Lord. Davidic sonship is not being denied; in fact, Davidic sonship is an important concept to Luke (1:31-35; Acts 13:23-39; also Paul, Rom 1:2-4). Rather, the point is Messiah's authority, and thus by implication Jesus' exalted position.
In fact, Jesus does not answer the question, nor does his audience. Instead the audience and Luke's reader are left to ponder it. In literary terms the answer comes in Luke 22:69 and Acts 2:22-39. The Son of David exercises divine prerogatives from the side of the Father in heaven. His authority is shared heavenly authority. To understand who the Son of David is, one must understand that he shares authority with the Father. As Acts 2 shows, authority over salvation comes from the Father through the Messiah, who sits at the Father's side functioning in "coregent" fashion. Thus the Lord Jesus reigns at the Father's side. Jesus does not make this explicit point here. But Luke 22:69 and Acts 2 show that ultimately this is the answer to the question.
Psalm 110:1 is the explanation for the answer; this is among the Old Testament passages most often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament (Acts 2:30-36; 7:55-56; 13:33-39; 1 Cor 15:22-28; Eph 1:19-23; Heb 1:3-14; 5--7). This royal psalm described the authority of the promised son of David. The picture of him at God's right hand is a picture of rule with God. A modern analogy would be to think of a corporate boardroom where the chairman of the board and the CEO sit together to manage the corporation. Only here the boardroom is God's heavenly court and the corporation is Creation and Redemption Inc. The Son of David shares authority and rule with the Father. So David, even though he is the ancestor of the Son in terms of family line, is under him in terms of authority.
All these points are only implied here. It took the resurrection to fully reveal who Jesus is, but the psalm shows the promise that through David's son eventually all the king's enemies would be defeated (Lk 1:67-79; Rom 1:2-4). Messiah's authority has the highest possible connections and reflects the highest possible position. When hymns declare, "He is Lord," passages like this explain what they mean.
The lines between the Jewish leadership and Jesus were drawn since the journey to Jerusalem began. In 11:37-54 the Galilean teacher pronounced a series of woes condemning both the Pharisees and the scribes. Nothing has happened in the interim to change that assessment. So Jesus issues a warning to his disciples that also comes within earshot of the people. Because of the scribes' pride and hypocrisy, the disciples are to beware. The warning is like 12:1.
Pride reveals itself in the scribes' public behavior as they wear their long robes and receive greetings of honor in public places. In fact, rabbis received special salutations (Windisch 1964:498; Lk 11:43). The robes were nicely decorated and ostentatious (Josephus Antiquities 3.7.1 151; 11.4.2 80). Pride was also evident in the scribes' taking the first seats in the synagogue or at feasts. Jesus had condemned such pursuits of honor in 11:43 and 14:7-14. So Jesus is reviewing his displeasure at attitudes he considers unworthy of disciples.
Hypocrisy surfaces in the scribes' treatment of others. The estates of vulnerable widows are devoured, while long prayers create a façade of caring about God and others (11:39; 18:9-14). The scribes' actions contradict their surface practice. "Such men will be punished most severely" (10:14; 11:31-32, 51). Luke often mentions widows or the poor to indicate those God cares for (2:37; 4:25-26; 7:12; 21:1-4; Acts 6:1; 9:39).
How the leadership abused widows is debated. Was the widows' property now dedicated to the temple handled in a way that defrauded them? Did the leaders take undue advantage of their hospitality? Did they accept debt pledges that they knew could not be repaid? Did they charge for legal advice against the dictates of the law? Scholars are not sure. But abuse occurred.
Disciples should avoid such superficial, destructive piety. True devotion comes from the heart, is marked by humility and cares for others; it does not use people.
In contrast to the leadership's pride and hypocrisy come the simple actions of a poor widow. She also stands tall in contrast to the rich who are passing by and contributing to the temple treasury. While noting the rich who give in passing, Jesus draws attention to a poor widow who puts two very small copper coins into the treasury. These two coins, lepta, were the smallest coins possible. They were worth about 1/100 of a denarius, or five minutes' labor at minimum wage! Hers is a minimal gift, at least on the surface.
Nonetheless, Jesus calls it the greatest gift. She "has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." This last phrase can be translated "out of her poverty put in all her living" (ek tou hysterematos autes panta ton bion). The contribution really came from "all that remained of her life." Jesus' point is not so much to rebuke others' contributions as to exalt a contribution that otherwise would have been underappreciated.
Sometimes little gifts cost a great deal more than big gifts do, and their merit is in the sacrifice they represent. In fact, real giving happens when one gives sacrificially. Interestingly, research has shown that when people's income increases their proportion of charitable contributions tends to drop. We tend to give less the more we are blessed. How would Jesus assess this trend?
In contrast to the scribes' pride and hypocrisy stands this woman who has sacrificed out of her life to honor God. So Jesus says, "Beware of the scribes, but follow this widow." When God measures the life of service, he does not just count, he weighs.
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• An ad-free Bible Gateway experience.
• A risk-free, 30-day trial—you can cancel any time.
Three easy steps to start your free trial subscription to Bible Gateway Plus.