The Priests Test Jesus

But the priests were determined to test him, and soon the chance came. They tried three times, and each time Jesus baffled them.

The first test came when they said to him, 'You preach, you heal, you cast out devils ¨C now, by whose authority do you do these things? Who gave you permission to go about stirring up excitement like this?'

'I'll tell you,' he said, 'if you'll give me an answer to this question: did John's authority to baptise come from heaven, or from earth?'

They didn't know how to answer him. They withdrew a little way and discussed it. 'If we say it came from heaven,' they said, 'he'll say, "In that case, why didn't you believe in it?" But if we say it was of human origin, the crowd will be angry with us. John's a great prophet as far as they're concerned.'

So they had to tell him, 'We find it hard to decide. We can't answer you.'

'In that case,' he said, 'you'll have to do without an answer from me.'

The next test they put him to concerned that perennial difficulty, taxes.

They said, 'Teacher, you're an honest man, we can all see that. No one doubts your sincerity or your impartiality; you show no favours, and you don't try to ingratiate yourself with anyone. So we're sure you'll give us a truthful answer when we ask you: is it lawful to pay taxes?'

They meant lawful according to the law of Moses, and they hoped they would trick him into saying something that would get him into trouble with the Romans.

But he said, 'Show me one of those coins you pay taxes with.'

Someone handed him a coin, and he looked at it and said, 'There's a picture on here. Whose picture is this? What's the name underneath it?'

'It's Caesar's, of course,' they said.

'Well, there's your answer. If this is Caesar's, give it back to him. Give God the things that are God's.'

The third time they tried to trap him involved a capital offence. The scribes and the Pharisees happened to be dealing with the case of a woman who was caught committing adultery. They thought that they could force Jesus into calling for her to be stoned, which was the punishment authorised by their law, and hoped that this would cause trouble for him.

They found him near the temple wall. The Pharisees and scribes took the woman out and stood her in front of him, and said, 'Teacher, this woman has committed adultery ¨C she was caught in the act! Moses commands us to stone such a woman to death. What do you say? Should we do it?'

Jesus was sitting on a rock, leaning down and writing with his finger in the dust. He took no notice of them.

'Teacher, what should we do?' they said again. 'Should we stone her, as Moses says?'

He still said nothing, and went on writing in the dust.

'We don't know what to do!' they went on. 'You can tell us. We're sure you can find a solution. Should she be stoned? What do you think?' Jesus looked up and brushed the dirt off his hands.

'If there's one of you who has never committed a sin, he can throw the first stone,' he said. Then he bent down again and wrote some more. One by one the scribes and the Pharisees went away, muttering. Jesus was left alone with the woman.

Finally he stood up and said, 'Where have they gone? Has no one condemned you, after all?'

'No, sir, no one,' she said.

'Well, you'd better go too, then,' he said. 'I'm not going to condemn you. But don't sin any more.'

Christ heard about this from the disciple who was his informant. As soon as he was told about it, he hurried to the spot to see what it was that Jesus had written in the dust. The wind had blown his words away, and there was nothing to see on the ground, but nearby someone had daubed the words KING JESUS on the temple wall in mud. It had dried in the sunlight, and Christ brushed it off quickly in case it got his brother into trouble.

Jesus Becomes Angry with the Pharisees

Soon after that, something provoked Jesus into anger with the Pharisees. He had been watching how they behaved, how they dealt with ordinary people, how they assumed airs of importance. A questioner had asked him whether people should do as the Pharisees did, and Jesus said:

'They teach with the authority of Moses, don't they? And you know what the law of Moses says? Listen to what the scribes and the Pharisees say, and if they agree with the law of Moses, obey them. But do as they say ¨C don't do as they do.

'Because they're hypocrites, every one of them. Look at the way they vaunt themselves up! They love to sit in the place of honour at a banquet, they love to sit in prominent positions in the synagogue, they love to be greeted with respectful words in the marketplace. They preen themselves on the correctness of their costume, while exaggerating every detail to draw attention to their piety. They encourage superstition and they ignore genuine faith, while all the time they're fawning over prominent citizens and boasting of the importance of their powerful friends. Haven't I told you many times how wrong it is to think that the higher you are among men, the closer you are to God?

'You scribes and Pharisees, if you're listening ¨C be damned to you. You take endless scruples over the tiniest matters of the law, while you let the great things like justice and mercy and faith go unnoticed and forgotten. You strain the gnats out of your wine, but you ignore the camel standing in it.

'Damn the lot of you ¨C hypocrites that you are. You preach modesty and abstinence, while indulging in the costliest luxuries; you're like a man who offers his guests wine from a golden cup, having polished the outside while neglecting the inside, so it's full of dirt and slime.

'Damn you each and every one. You're like a tomb covered in whitewash, a handsome structure, gleaming and spotless ¨C but what's on the inside? Bones and rags and all kinds of filth.

'You snakes, you brood of vipers! You've persecuted the best and the most innocent, you've hounded the wisest and the most righteous to death. How in the world do you think you're going to escape being sent to hell?

' Jerusalem, Jerusalem ¨C what an unhappy city you are. They come to you, the prophets, and you stone them to death. I wish I could gather all your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings! But will you let me? No, not a chance. See how sad you make those who love you!'

News of this angry speech spread quickly, and Christ had to work hard to keep up with the reports of his brother's words. And more and more frequently he saw the words scrawled on walls, or scratched into the bark of trees: KING JESUS.

Jesus and the Money-changers

The next thing to happen didn't only involve words. In the temple there were many activities connected with buying and selling: for example, doves and cattle and sheep were offered for sale to those who wanted to make a sacrifice. But as people came to the temple from many places both near and far away, some of them had money different from the local coinage, and there were money-changers there too, ready to calculate the exchange rate and sell them the money to buy doves with. One day Jesus went into the temple and, provoked by his growing anger against the scribes and the priests, lost his patience with all this mercantile activity and began to upset the tables of the money-changers and the animal-sellers.

He flung them this way and that, and took a whip and drove the animals out, shouting, 'This should be a house of prayer, but look at it now! It's a den of robbers! Take your money and your buying and selling elsewhere, and leave this place to God and his people!'

The temple guards came running to try and restore order, but the people were too excited to listen to them, and some were scrambling to gather up the coins that were rolling all over the floor before the money-changers could save them. In the confusion the officials missed Jesus, and failed to arrest him.

The Priests Discuss What to Do about Jesus

Of course, the priests and officials of the temple were aware of all this, and they gathered at the house of the high priest Caiaphas to discuss how to respond.

'We shall have to put him out of action one way or another,' said one.

'Arrest him? Kill him? Exile him somewhere?'

'But he's so popular. If we move against him, the people won't stand for it.'

'The people are fickle. They can be moved this way and that.'

'Well, we're not succeeding in moving them. They're entirely for Jesus.'

'That can change in a moment, with the right provocation... '

'I still don't see what he's done wrong.'

'What? Provoking a riot in the temple? Rousing the people to an unhealthy state of excitement? If you don't see it, the Romans certainly will.'

'I don't understand what he wants. If we offered him a high position here, would he accept that and keep quiet?'

'He preaches the coming of the Kingdom of God. I don't think he could be bought off with a salary and a comfortable office.'

'He's a man of great integrity ¨C say what else you like, you must grant him that.'

'Have you seen that slogan they're scrawling everywhere ¨C King Jesus?'

'There's something in that. If we could persuade the Romans that he's a threat to their order... '

'Is he a Zealot, do you think? Is that what motivates him?'

'They're bound to be aware of him. We really must move before they do.'

'We can't do anything during the festival.'

'We need an agent in his camp. If we could find out what he was planning next... '

'Impossible. His followers are fanatics ¨C they'd never give him away.'

'It can't go on. We'll have to do something soon. He's had the initiative for too long.'

Caiaphas let everyone speak and listened to everything, and his mind was troubled.

Christ and his Informant

Christ was staying at an inn at the edge of the city. That evening he ate with his informant, who told him about the incident in the temple. Christ had already heard rumours about what had happened, and he was eager to get the facts clear, so he made notes on his tablet as they ate.

'Jesus seems more and more angry,' he said. 'Do you know why that is? Has he spoken about it to any of you?'

'No, but Peter is sure Jesus is in danger, and he's worried that the master will be arrested before the Kingdom comes. What would happen then, with Jesus in prison? Would all the gates be opened, and all the bars flung down? That's the most likely thing. But Peter's anxious, no doubt about it.'

'Is Jesus anxious too, do you think?'

'He hasn't said so. But everyone's jumpy. We don't know what the Romans will do, for one thing. And the crowds ¨C they're all for Jesus now, but there's an edge to it. You can tell. They're over-excited. They want the Kingdom right away, and if... '

The man hesitated.

'If what?' said Christ. 'If the Kingdom doesn't come, is that what you were going to say?'

'Of course not. There's no doubt about the Kingdom. But a business like the temple this morning... There are times when I wish we were back in Galilee.'

'How are the other disciples taking it?'

'Nervous, jumpy, like I say. If the master wasn't so angry right now we'd all be calmer. It's as if he's spoiling for a fight.'

'But he's said that if someone hits us, we should turn the other cheek.' Copyright 2016 - 2023