This month our Gospel readings are taken from chapter 22 of Matthew’s gospel account. In it, Jesus is being challenged by his three main opponents. They are the Herodians, the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
We began reading this chapter two weeks ago. It begins with Jesus crafting the parable about a King’s grand wedding feast for his son, but the King is stiffed by all the invited guest. The King in turn rejects them and invites whoever will accept. The three antagonists arguing with Jesus come to realize that Jesus meant this parable to be about them; that they are the rejected by God; they will be excluded from God’s Kingdom.
Normally these parties are fighting among themselves, but now they are collaborating in a united effort to discredit Jesus.
First the Herodians challenge Jesus. These are the political sellouts among the Jews. They are aligned with King Herod, who is helping the Romans occupy and control the population, and collect a census tax from the people. They try trapping Jesus with a political question about whether the people should pay the tax or not.
Next the Sadducees have a go at Jesus. They are the Temple people, the priestly class, scholars of Law of Moses. They accept only the first five books of the Old Testament, demanding that they be followed scrupulously and to the letter. They reject the belief in the resurrection i.e. as prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel. They construct an argument around a law of Moses that declared that if a man dies without having children, his brother is to marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. They create an argument around seven brothers, all marrying the same wife after each brother had died. “In the resurrection, then, whose wife will she be of the seven? For all of them were married to her.”
Finally, the Pharisees take their turn, raising a disputed question of the day about which of the 613 commandments of the law is the most important or are all of equal importance.
The Problem in all of this is not that questions do arise and look for answers, the problem is that ridged factions form around the questions, and instead of being open to discovering the best answers to the questions they are used to divide and separate people. These factions are more intent on dominating the others rather than getting to the truth.
We are all familiar with the saying, “divide and conquer”. Jesus knows well that this is Satan’s strategy against the gospel message which he is announcing and it will continue on as the life of the Church begins to unfold.
St. Paul describes it in 1 Cor. 12; “What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul goes on in chapter 12 to use the analogy of the human body with its many parts all working in harmony to describe how the Church and its many members are to unify. Then in chapter 13, he gives that beautiful teaching on the unifying principal of love – which flows from Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel, the primacy of Love, the greatest Commandment.
Just look around our society today. Have we ever seen such division, contentedness, animosity and argument among people? We must not let ourselves to be drawn into it. As Christians formed in the gospel, our calling is to bring the healing and unifying message of the Gospel of Love to a divide world.