by David Morson
St Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Four Gospels and usually reads like an exhaustive itinerary of Jesus going here and there, teaching, healing, meeting people. But, during Holy Week, Mark goes into great detail on what happened on Tuesday, now known as “Temple Tuesday”.
Jesus returns to the Temple in Jerusalem where he had driven out the money changers the day before. His enemies were waiting for Him and were ready with a series of trick questions which they hoped would discredit Him with the crowds or lead Him to say something which they could use against Him.
They consisted of Pharisees meaning “separate ones” who believed they kept the Law of Moses more strictly than others. The Sadducees, an aristocratic group, descendants of Zadok the Priest. The did not want to upset Rome whom they relied upon for their privileged position and wealth. The Herodians were the followers of Herod Antipas who was in the City for the Passover and who also depended on Rome for his position. The Scribes were those who were experts in the Law and faithfully copied the Scriptures
By devoting so many verses to this day, Mark is aware that this is the dramatic climax of the conflict between Jesus and His opponents, leading to their decision to have Jesus killed. He records in some detail the “cat and mouse” questions and answers.
First of all, Jesus is asked by whose Authority does He act. He puts the question back to them by asking was the Baptism of John the Baptist from God from heaven or earth. If they answered from heaven then why was he killed? If from earth, the people would be offended as John was revered as a Prophet. As they could not say, then Jesus would not give them an answer.
They the ask whether it is lawful to Pay Taxes to Caesar. If He said no, then He could be accused of treason. If He said Yes He would lose popularity as the people hated paying taxes to Rome. He asks them to show Him a coin with Caesar’s head on it and says therefore,”Give back to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods’.
In between these two questions, Jesus tells a very pointed Parable about the Owner of a Vineyard (each representing God and Israel respectively). When the harvest came the owner (God) sent His servants (the Prophets) to bring in the fruits of the produce, but they are killed by the Tenants (those with Authority) and so He sent His Son and Heir, believing at least they will listen to Him. But they killed Him too. So the Owner had no option but to offer the Vineyard to others.
This was a blatant declaration by Jesus that He knew what they were planning to do to Him. Other questions about the resurrection of the body, disbelieved by Sadducees and what was the Greatest commandment which Jesus reduced to “Love God and Your Neighbour”, all failed to trap or incriminate Jesus.
Jesus then warns the people about the Scribes and Pharisees who are full of their own importance, walking around with long flowing robes and taking the most important seats in the synagogue. He contrasts them with the Poor widow who had little ,but who gave all she had to God.
His enemies would have arrested Jesus there and then but they were afraid of the crowds who flocked around Him to hear His words, so they decided they must arrest Him in secret and looked out for an opportunity to do so.