Luke 20: 41 – 47 Whose son is the Messiah & Warning against the teachers of the law
Then Jesus said to them, ‘Why is it said that the Messiah 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?’
While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.’
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The first three verses are slightly enigmatic to a modern reader. What does this passage mean?
We must remember to put this in the context in which it was spoken. Jesus is speaking to the Sadducees, who believe there is no resurrection. Jesus has just told them that God tells Moses that he is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and he God of Jacob, and that he is not the God of the dead but of the living.
The Jews believed that seniority was very important. The first-born child had special privileges; for example, they would receive a double share of the inheritance. It would have been contrary to this belief if King David were to refer to one of his descendants as ‘Lord’; he just wouldn’t have done it.
In discussing this point, Jesus is saying that Psalm 110 is a prophetic psalm which tells of the coming of the Messiah. King David, the writer of the psalm, is describing a vision in which the Lord God says to the Messiah that he will be a mighty leader, a high priest for ever, and that he will sit in judgment over kings.
Jesus says that it is plainly wrong to say that the Messiah can be a descendant of King David, because David would not have referred to him as Lord. The inference is that the Messiah is altogether greater than David. Perhaps even more importantly, he is pointing out how limited is our human understanding of the Kingdom of heaven
Having posed that conundrum to the Sadducees, Jesus now warns against teachers of the law. He draws us a picture of them in their daily life.
They liked to wear flowing robes. This showed that they didn’t do manual labour. They were above that. They showed disdain for the ordinary person.
They liked respect in the market-places – not the respect that we should show to everybody, but the respect that establishes and reinforces status; division; exploitation.
They prized the most important seats in the synagogue and places of honour at banquets; showing they wanted status and influence.
What are the spiritual consequences of this behaviour?
It establishes ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups, and makes it easier to treat others as objects to gratify our desires. Jesus makes it plain that looking down on those we perceive as weaker or less worthy than ourselves has practical consequences. He points out that “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” This was a particularly pointed accusation, because widows had special status under Mosaic law: ‘Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.’ (Exodus 22: 22 – 24)
Another consequence is that their life is governed by appearances rather than love. This is an insidious consequence. Gradually these men will lose the capacity for human love, and their ability to respond to God’s love will be reduced.
Jesus gives a frightening warning. ‘These men will be punished most severely’.
To be loveless causes people to cut themselves off from God, and that is a terrible punishment.
Now, there are some people who find it difficult to experience the emotion of love. In case anyone reading this has that difficulty (and I confess that I was like that for a long time), don’t worry. God’s love is for all. Trust God for it. Love in our lives is at least as much a matter of will as it is of emotion. Keep on loving people; doing kindly actions; putting others first. Pray for your love to be deepened, and trust God to do exactly that. The simple fact that you are seeking to love shows that you love God and trust him.
And for the rest of us who are able to feel love, if we know anyone who struggles with feeling love, let’s pray for them and show them as much love as we can.
By the standards of Jesus, my motives are mixed. I don’t always act out of love. Sometimes I place appearance ahead of love. Create in me a pure heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.
In Jesus name, Amen