Thursday, June 21, 2012

Questions, Questions: Mark 12

It's political campaign season here in America, and we're going to see something repeated over and over and over again: the loaded question. It's a political maneuver that is older than our country, but one both candidates and media have learned to play to a nearly perfect note in these days. One of the joking examples of the loaded question is the old “When did you stop beating your wife?” question. You cannot provide a short answer to that question: if you say you haven't stopped, are you admitting you still do it? If you give a date, are you admitting you used to?

Or there's the question my old chemistry teacher used to ask: “Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” The two halves are non-related, creating a false dichotomy. What if you walk to school while carrying your lunch? Historically, we see the question-framing continue. At the outset of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther was brought before the imperial powers in his home nation, but rather than being allowed to speak freely, he was told only to answer a couple of questions with yes and no. That shuts down discussion, doesn't it?

When we look back into the Gospels, we see the Pharisees and Sadducees were good questioners. Throughout the life of Christ, these two groups, along side the scribes and lawyers, asked Jesus a multitude of questions. Many times their efforts were attempts to trap Him into saying something that would embarrass Him or shut down His ministry. This effort did not stop, even in this closing week of His life.

Mark 12 (link) contains several of these questions. First, there is the question of paying taxes to Caesar. Then, there's a question from the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead. You get the classic question of “What is the greatest commandment?”

The one consistent feature in these questions is the wisdom of the answers. The responses from Jesus show us important ideas about dealing with critics with loaded questions:

  1. Do not let the opening throw you off: take a look at Mark 12:13-17. The question is political and it starts with an attempt to flatter Jesus. They pay lip-service to how independent minded He is, and then hit Him with a question that will either upset the people or upset the government. Jesus, though, does not let the flattery sink in. Why? Likely because He trusts in His identity rather than people's statements about Him. That's not a bad thought for all of us to consider, but that's not the point today. The point is this: do not allow the flattering or attacking opening of a critical question to keep you from sorting through the truth of it.
  2. Do know your questioners: Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. What do you know about them? The Scribes knew the Word of God well, the Pharisees sought to follow it to a fault of perfection, and the Sadducees were the upper-class who were mainly worried with holding on to their own place of power. The Pharisees were less involved politically, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection, and the scribes tended to know more than they acted on. So, Jesus responds to them directly on point. Not the point they want to make, but the point they need to hear.
  3. Do not miss the opportunity to communicate truth: Jesus could have softballed each of the questions He faced. Or He could have given short answers: “Pay your taxes.” “No one's wife.” “The commandment that makes you obey all the other commandments.” Instead, He presents not just the answer but the reasoning, not just a momentary relief of curiosity but a full explanation.
  4. Do address the real issue: Is the issue taxes or the heart of ownership? Is it about a hypothetical wife or the denial of truth? Is it about theoretical righteousness or doing something in obedience? Answer the real question. Now, if you are not the infallible God of the Universe, you would do well to make sure you actually do understand the real question. Sometimes it really is the question the person is asking.

In all, we can learn not just from what Jesus did but how He did it.

Today's Nerd Note: The end of this chapter features the story of a widow who put two lepta into the offering at the Temple and Jesus' commendation that she gave more than the rich because she gave all she had, while the rich gave only a portion of what they had.

This passage has been used by some to advocate that you should, for example, write a check for the balance in your checking account to a church or ministry and then trust God to make it back up. Now, it may be that you should do that from time-to-time, but that is not what this passage commands. Or commends. Rather, let us consider a couple of realities:

#1: The Temple, at the time, was the central place of the work of God on earth. More than that, it was the symbolic center of God's presence. If you are a Christian, you ought to go to church, but that's not because it's the center of God's presence but because it's a center point for meeting and drawing near to God's people. Churches and ministries, while they ought to be good, are not the same as the Temple.

#2: The widow lived in a society where there should have been certain care for her even without money. She gave in trust that God, through His people at the time, would provide for her ongoing needs. We should cautiously consider this alongside the other Scriptural commands of stewardship and recognize that sometimes God provides for tomorrow by funding given yesterday.

#3: The story is as much, if not more, about the rich who acted a big game about their “sacrifice” that was not a sacrifice than it is about the widow whose true sacrifice was uncelebrated. Think about this: the millionaire who gives the church a fraction of his money gets the gym named after him, but the kid who gives his paper route money so that there is a facility to assist in reaching his fellow kids gets no recognition. We do the same thing, don't we?

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