Who is right?
Matthew 22:13-33 & 34-46.
So if you were here last week you would have realised that the first reading was the same reading that we had last week.
This is one of those cases when we really need to see the bigger picture going on.
Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.
Bit like television programmes.
My wife watches Hollyoaks, not all the time, but she takes wee binges on it. She won’t watch it for months and then I'll catch her watching it again. And when I ask her how she can do that she says, ‘Nothing much happens over a long period. So you can dip in and out.’
Meanwhile once in the middle of season two of Game of Thrones, Roseanna came in as I was watching and asked me what was going on. She hadn’t seen any of it before and I went to open my mouth and explain to her what was going on, and then just said, ‘You’d be better watching the box set.’
This part of the Bible is one of those bits when I could try to isolate it off and talk about it on its own. But it is part of a far bigger section.
Last week the Pharisees and the Herodians sent people to trap Jesus with the question, ‘Is it against our law to pay taxes to the Romans?’
Remember this was a weird alliance. The Pharisees were the group that kept themselves apart from everyone so that they wouldn't be tainted by the world’s evil. They believed in the written law, the Bible, but also the oral law, these were laws that added to the written laws, extended the written laws. They were there to make sure that you didn't accidentally break the written law. If the written law was like a fence to make sure that you didn't walk over a cliff, then the oral laws were there like an inner fence to make sure you were even safer, because you didn't even reach that outer fence.
Meanwhile the Herodians were just a political party that wanted to make sure that we all got on with the Romans and everything was quiet. Quiet was good for business, quiet was good for peace; quiet was good for keeping us all alive and well.
This week’s reading tells of when the Sadducees come to Jesus asking a question about the afterlife. The Sadducees were the priests who looked after the temple and its worship. The building was important as it was the centre of the faith. They didn't believe in the oral traditions, those extensions of the rules to protect them from breaking the real rules, the way the Pharisees did. The Bible was ‘The Bible’ and that was it.
The weird thing to us would be, they didn't believe in an afterlife. To them God blessed us in this earth, God punishes us in this earth. So if their life was going well, and it was as the sacrifices and temple taxes made their life very comfortable, then everything was fine. To them the idea of an afterlife was stupid, and their question reflects how stupid they think the idea of an afterlife is. ‘A husband dies. Now the laws of inheritance say that if a man dies his brother must marry the woman so she doesn't become desolate. Imagine there are seven brothers, and this woman goes through all of them. To which one is she married to in heaven?’
When the Sadducees fail, along come the Pharisees again, asking which law is the most important...is it one of the written laws, in which case the Pharisees can dismiss Jesus, or is it one of the spoken laws, in which case the Sadducees can dismiss Jesus?
Why is this important to us?
This is important to us because the world hasn't changed all that much.
There is a presumption.
It is a huge presumption.
And the presumption is...that when we are in the room, people either agree with us, in which case they can be trusted, or they don't agree with us, in which case they are suspect.
In my university common room in Aberdeen, there was a poster that summed up this philosophy, ‘Everyone in the world is mad except for me and thee, and I’m not too sure about thee.’
What is really frightening, when I come to think about it, is that I can’t remember 99% of the lectures on theology that I got over the three years that I was there, but I can remember that poster.
But that poster reflects the way we often are. From our perspective, we are usually right, and it takes a lot to convince us that we are not.
And if people don’t agree with us, then we write them off as ignorant, or cranks, or weirdoes or people who just don't understand the way the world really is.
Now we think this is a reasonable thing for us to think, the only trouble is that everyone else thinks the same way. And we know they are wrong.
Think of people who are addicted to...whatever. Have you ever wondered why they stay addicted? Or worse, why, if they get off their addiction, when they are stressed out, they are tempted to go back to their addiction?
You would think that the one thing that they wouldn't do is go back to their addiction.
But often they get hooked again. Because in their head this demon, whatever demon it is, they can handle, because they handled it before.
It may not be the best way of escaping their problems, but it got them here and they are still living, so it can’t be too bad.
Now we know that is stupid, but to them it makes perfect sense.
Imagine the drug addict or alcoholic that gets clean and then relapses.
The woman, or man, who leaves one abusive relationship and then walks straight into another abusive relationship.
The shopaholic that believes that happiness comes with one more buy.
The gambler that believes that the next bet will be the big win.
They are all mad if they believe that, all mad except for me and thee...except I know some of the decisions you have made, and I am not too sure about thee.
And the thing is that we really believe that the way we live our life is right, even when it isn’t. And when it isn’t we will justify it and say things like; that given the circumstances that we have to live in, that others couldn't have made better choices. So even when we are wrong we are right.
How can we not see how stupid that is?
I have watched children being children in Zones.
And one child, who I’ll call Zoe, will be having a bad day and is so frustrated and just wants to lash out at the world. And some other child will bump into her and that’s the last straw...Zoe lashes out and hits the other child.
But in Zoe’s mind it isn't her fault.
In Zoe’s mind things got on top of her.
She’ll even say things like, ‘She made me do it.’
How stupid is that?
That some other child used brain control because she wanted to be hurt, but she didn't want to hurt herself, so she got Zoe to hurt her instead. This other child had the power of brain control and she used that phenomenal power to get Zoe to punch her.
Imagine I had that kind of power; imagine I had the power to make people do things. If I had that kind of power do you think I would use it on the choir so that they would beat me up?
So where am I going with this?
We like to think that we are living our life as best we can.
But what if someone challenged that?
We would prove to them how stupid they were.
But what if that someone was Jesus?
You see from our perspective we look at these passages today and think, ‘Why would so many different groups all attack Jesus? Obviously they are wrong and they should just have followed Jesus.’
But the Pharisees and the Herodians and the Sadducees didn't believe that. They believed they were doing the best they could and Jesus was wrong. But now they are gone, there is only us left. We are here, and what are we doing?
There was an article in a recent Life and Work and it was some person attacking ministers because they didn't see them wearing a dog-collar on the street. ‘Are we ministers ashamed of our faith?’ they were asking. The conclusion they came to was this was why the church is failing.
I had a wee word with ministers about this...and you know who they blamed for the churches problems...everyone, the elders, the guild, the choir, the organist, the way the world is, other ministers...everyone, except themselves.
And I think that is fair, because I suspect that if I asked anyone in this congregation just now who was to blame for the churches problems, I suspect I would get the same answer, we would blame someone, but it wouldn't be ourselves.
We may think our life should be private and our faith should be private, but Christ said two things, which our faith should be like; a light shining from a mountain that is how obvious that it should be. And our faith should make us more like him. As Christians we should be more loving, more patent, more tolerant, more compassionate than non Christians, and often we aren’t.
Because here is the truth that Jesus makes us face; the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Herodians, us...
Our life is not about us doing the best we can.
Our life is not about us trying to get on with our life and hoping for the best.
Our life is about living life with the heart of Christ.
That is the option that Christ gives us, we either struggle with his way, or we do it wrong.
And it doesn't matter what of the millions of different ways we try, if it isn't done with the heart of Christ, it is wrong.
We can even do the right thing, but if it isn’t done with the heart of Christ, it is wrong.
So what do we do now?
Well we can go the way of the Scribes and the Pharisees, we can attack Jesus.
Like them we can try to show though questions that Jesus doesn't understand how hard our life is.
That Jesus is being naive, that he doesn't comprehend what we have to go through.
That the way he is suggesting is not the way the world is.
That we are just going to do our religious stuff and he should be happy with that; that we worship in our own way, we give in our own way, we live our life in our own way, and that way is a lot better than other folks.
But that isn’t what Jesus offers us, and he will challenge us again and again and again.
Until we either decided to follow, or like the scribes and the Sadducees, decide that enough is enough and try to eliminate him from our life.
I know this is a tough message.
But it is the only message that God offers us.
He can change our heart.
Bit by bit we can be more like Jesus.
Bit by bit we can have a heart that is more patient and kind, more generous and compassionate, more loving and joyous.
Because the alternative is a world where everyone is out for themselves. That we become more hate filled, more suspicious, more in tolerant, more selfish.
A world where we know that our climate is dying but we don't do what we can to save it.
A world where political turmoil exists in Northern Ireland but the politicians won’t talk to each other so solve their problems.
A world where an American president wants to tear up a treaty that limits the growth of nuclear weapons.
A world that is as mad as it seems when we watch the news and we wonder why people do what they do.
So, do we follow Christ and seek to grow his heart within us, or do we trust our own path and do the best we can?