There have been a lot of debates lately in the U.S.... "official" Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates, unofficial water-cooler debates over the merits of the candidates, debates in Congress over the economy. This morning I read about my favorite debate of all... one between Jesus and the Scribes/Pharisees which is recorded mostly in Luke chapter 20 (it kind of laps over into chapter 19 and 21 a little bit, but the main part of it is in chapter 20). A while back I read the chapter and was seriously impressed with Jesus' unique debating style and how he flummoxed his opponents, and today when I read it again in my new ESV Study Bible I remembered why I like it so much. It's got to be one of my favorite chapters in the Gospels!
The debate actually starts in the last few verses of chapter 19 when Jesus "cleanses" the temple. This of course made the religious leaders pretty upset: they "...were seeking to destroy him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words." So I suppose they decided to try to discredit him on credentials, or destroy the people's faith in Jesus' teaching abilities by outfoxing him with questions. Bad idea! You can't out-question the Son of God!
First question: "Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority." I guess they religious leaders figured they had official credentials and Jesus didn't. Instead of answering their question, Jesus answered, I've always assumed, by deftly changing the subject. "Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?" The religious leaders were too afraid to answer what they really believed (that John was a wacko out in the desert somewhere) because they knew the people thought John was a prophet (for the record, yes he was!) and they were afraid of a riot. So they refused to answer, and so Jesus refused to answer their question as well.
Was Jesus really changing the subject? He was not! Jesus' authority came from the same place John's came from, and if the religious leaders weren't willign to recognize John's authority, they weren't going to recognize Jesus' either. So he refused to answer, but he got them to refuse first! Smart, huh?
Then Jesus immediately launched into a story. Is the story unrelated? No, it is not! The story is a parable about some tenants who are given the task of keeping a vineyard for the owner. Every time the owner sent a servant to pick up some of the fruit, the tenants beat the servant up and kicked him out, until finally the owner sent his son, whom the servants killed, thinking they would be able to keep the vineyard for themselves. The story is really about God giving authority to the temple rulers, who misused it and abused the true prophets of God, and who would shortly have God's son executed. At the end of the parable, the tenants are "destroyed" and the vineyard taken away from them. The story completely relates to the question of authority, although the people it was leveled against probably didn't get it.
Come back tomorrow for part 2!