Easter without Hindsight: The Scribes; Pharisees strike back?
The Temple, like many large religious institutions was both a huge series of buildings (the Temple Mount complex was one of the largest buildings in the world at the time) and also home to a large and busy organisation. It was a hierarchy with various functionaries at the bottom, including the guards and the traders of sacrifices and sacred currency, up through various groups of elders, priests and lawyers, including the scribes. The chief priests, led by the High Priest, Caiaphas, were at the top.
So who did Jeshua, in their view an uneducated rabble-rouser of questionable lifestyle, think he was? More precisely, by whose authority did he come into an august and hallowed institution like the Temple, disrupt the solemnity of religious worship and then accuse the religious authorities of being as much a problem to God as the pagan Romans?
To understand how the Temple authorities felt, just remember the outrage that Pussy Riot caused in Moscow when they disrupted cathedral life and implied that the Russian Orthodox Church was complicit in what they saw as the tyranny of the government of Vladimir Putin.
The scribes and the chief priests demanded to know Jeshua’s authority for his outburst. At first sight he avoids the question with another question. Understand the man he asks about though and his reasoning becomes clear.
Jeshua asks them about the authority of John the Baptist, who baptised Jeshua the start of his ministry. If the chief priests confirm that John had God’s authority then they confirm that God’s authority had indeed passed to Jeshua. Of course that’s the last thing the authorities believe. They do not, however, want to say publicly that John, who was a well-respected, revered and widely followed prophet in his own right, led the Hebrew people astray.
Having disarmed his questioners Jeshua now counters with a question of his own. He tells the story (Luke 20:9-19) now known as the Parable of the Two Sons. A father asks his first son to work in the family vineyard. The son refused to do so at first but eventually turns up and works. His brother initially agreed to work but simply failed to do so. “Which son did what his father wanted?” Jeshua asked the crowd.
“The first,” they replied. In the sight and hearing of the crowds in the Temple Jeshua now publicly turns to the religious authorities. “John came to show you the way of righteousness and you didn’t believe him – but the prostitutes and the tax collectors did.” John had indeed changed the lives of many ‘sinners’ in his time.
Jesus suggestion that the prostitutes and the tax collectors would get into the kingdom of heaven ahead of the priests probably helped the priests decide that maybe Caiaphas was onto something: it’s certainly better that this man dies.