Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world is examined for four days before He is slaughtered. He, as the Lambs before Him had to be established as pure and unblemished . It is fascinating the kind of examination that took place. If there is no place one can see the blindness, stupidity, cupidity, venality and self absorption of humanity you can find it in the questions asked of Jesus as the examination went forward. You can find them in Matthew 22.
The first is the question of taxes to Caesar. We have heard this story for a long time. We argue about taxes constantly and wonder why we should be made to pay for abortions with our tax dollars. We argue and get dyspepsic about waste and fraud and abuse. Jesus answer is deeper than we think and one wonders what the cues were in the way He said the words and the look on His face. Some commentators, and I have to admit I like this idea, believe that He thinks this is really quite funny. If someone cares about these little pieces of metal so much that he puts his signature and picture on them then by all means render them back to Him. The word is quite stark – “give it back to Caesar”. The serious nature of the answer is revealed in the second part – give back to God. God wants mercy and justice, devotion and trust, love and praise and love for others, all of which Jesus as the spotless Lamb had given completely and so should the people who claimed to follow God so closely.
The Sadducees question about marriage in the afterlife is pure meanness designed to get this so called Messiah to admit that there is no after life. It is a rationalization of mysterious things to take away the mystery. It is like the High School biology teacher who invites a Pastor to come and speak to his class to make him look foolish. Jesus knows what it means to be at home with the Father and refutes the question with an affirmation of life. This Lamb has come that men might have abundant life and life forever.
The scribes are trying to rate the commandments to try and find one that they can keep to lessen the impact of all the rest. Jesus gives them an answer that shows and undivided unity between love for God and love for the neighbor that cannot be abridged or abandoned. It is the will of the Father that has brought Him to this place and love for the fallen world that will place Him on a cross. The Law cannot be fragmented and just as Jesus kept the whole Law, He will be condemned by the whole Law to pay for the sins of the whole world.
These three questions examining the Lamb lead to the most stark, terrifying and damning indictments that have ever been uttered. Matthew 23 is terrifying and maddening especially coming from gentle Jesus meek and mild. It is gut churning as one reads in mounting frustration everything that had been given to Jerusalem and Israel and how it was squandered and actually used for the destruction of the faith it was meant to engender. As one scholar has written. in this chapter Jesus shows His life of mercy and grace and tries to express the “unplumbed mystery of malice” that would reject it. What is that malice? It is the human being that dreams up something as Luther says, and calls it faith. That faith becomes so important that they will attempt to tear down Christ and His Kingdom and make them over in their image. It is ultimately the unbelief of those who claim to so desperately believe.
What is so sad about these days before the slaughter is that the Lamb will die for these too. And if you are sitting their reading Matthew 23 in smug self satisfaction think that it might be evidence of your own mystery of malice rather than a sign of your righteousness. If Lent is a time of self examination then let it end for all of us with the cry, kyrie eleison .