Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Making America Good Again: "Gotcha" Questions.

One of the primary tools the press uses these days is asking "gotcha" questions to damage and discredit politicians, often to support the interviewers own agenda.  But tricky questions designed to intentionally make someone look bad are not a new phenomenon, but an ancient one.

In the last week of Jesus' life we see him subjected to many "gotcha" questions.  The chief priests and elders in charge of the Temple questioned where he got his authority.  Then some of the Pharisees, who were strongly opposed to Roman rule, asked about paying taxes to Caesar.  The Sadducees, who didn't believe in an afterlife, asked about marriage in the resurrection.  Each group had their own reasons for wanting to discredit Jesus but asked their "gotcha" questions in ways to not overtly antagonize the crowds that loved Him.

Not everybody was out to hurt Jesus and His reputation.  Many folks during the years of his travels and teaching asked him questions, honestly wanting to know the answers.  Nicodemus really wanted to know about what it meant to be born again.  The woman at the well really did want to know where to find the living water Jesus talked about. They were honestly searching for a better life.

But those who saw Jesus as a threat focused on the "gotcha" questions. The last attempt at a  "gotcha" moment happened, probably, on the Tuesday of what we call Holy Week.

An "expert in the law" asked Jesus:  "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"  (Matthew 22:36 and Mark 12:28).   Now bear in mind, Jewish law consists of 613 laws, not just the Ten Commandments.  You can read them all in the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch (or Torah).  I've always wondered what answer the lawyer was expecting;  lawyers are always supposed to know the answers to the questions they ask, right?  But the more I pondered, I think that he was looking for any answer he could use to try to undermine Jesus.

Jesus, as always, didn't get 'got'.  Jesus responded with what we now know as the Greatest Commandment - linking together two passages, one from Deuteronomy and one from Leviticus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:29-31)
In the account in Matthew, Jesus then turns the tables and asks the lawyer and his Pharisee friends to now tell him who the Messiah is.  They couldn't reply, and  "no one dared ask him any more questions."  (Matthew 22:46)  In the account in Mark, the "expert in the law" acknowledges (amazingly!) that Jesus is right, but the outcome is the same; no one asks Jesus any more questions.  Jesus was arrested two days later.

Jesus never fell for the "gotcha" questions.  He answered everyone truthfully and often asked his own "gotcha" questions.  All of Jesus' teaching forces us to question our own agendas and examine what is in our hearts.  Sometimes hearts and minds, humbled by the confrontation with the Son of God, are changed.  Other times, Jesus' questions hardened the hearts of those refusing to give up their own agendas.

Right after this confrontation Jesus gives one of his most blistering sermons, describing the Pharisees and teachers of the law as hypocrites, blind guides and a brood of vipers.  He warns his followers not to follow their prideful ways.

Jesus' point:  "For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."  (Matthew 23:12)

Does Jesus' challenge humble you or cause you to harden your heart?  To Make America Good Again, we could use a lot more humility.  Let's start with ourselves.

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