If you had one week to live what would you do?
This is what Jesus did on the last Tuesday of his life: He had a debate.
Honestly, I think I’m done with debates. I’ve had about all I can stand in this Presidential election and we haven’t even gotten past the primaries!
Do you remember these “bites” from previous presidential debates?
President Gerald Ford, October 6, 1976: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.”
Ronald Reagan, October 7, 1984, addressing the concern over his age: “I want you to know also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Lloyd Bentsen, October 5, 1988, in a response to Dan Quayle comparing his experience to the experience of Jack Kennedy: “I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Adm. William Stockdale, October 13, 1992, in his introduction: “Who am I? Why am I here? I’m not a politician.”
On Tuesday of the last week of Jesus’ life, Jesus engaged in a hard-hitting, exhausting debate with his arch-enemies, the Pharisees. It went from morning to early afternoon. Afterwards, Jesus taught his disciples for a few hours before going to Bethany, to the home of his good friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, for a relaxing meal, some friendly conversation and a good night’s sleep.
There were some memorable lines from Jesus to the Pharisees in these debates:
“The tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).
“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
“You are wrong, because you don’t know the Scripture and you don’t know the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it; ‘Love your n neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).
“For they (Pharisees) tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matthew 23:4).
“Everything they do is done for people to see…” (Matthew 23:5).
“The greatest among you shall be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11).
“Woe to you, teachers of the law (Moses’ law) and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matthew 23:13).
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices, but you neglect the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
“…on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28).
Said to the religious leaders. The religious establishment.
The debates took place in Jerusalem, near the Temple. Earlier that morning, Jesus walked with his disciples from Bethany to Jerusalem. They passed a fig tree that didn’t have any figs, even though it was fig season. Jesus did a weird thing: He cussed out the tree! The fig tree was a symbol of the religion the Pharisees would kill to protect. A lifeless, judgmental, hypocritical, religion that just beat people up instead of lifting them up. Just as the fig tree bore no fruit, so the Judaism of Jesus’ day was a dead religion stuck in dry ground.
Jesus didn’t cuss out the tree because he was “hangry” (hungry and angry). He was tipping off his disciples that they were in the middle of a spiritual revolution. The religion of the Pharisees was dead. Jesus was offering a living, loving alternative - a life based on justice, mercy, joy, and love.
Let’s reflect on the events of this Tuesday:
*Jesus was frustrated with religion.
It is interesting to note that religious sin is the only sin Jesus ever publicly condemned.
Am I trying to eat fruit from a dead tree? Or am I tapped into the living vine (John 15)?
*If I only had a week to live, I’m not sure I’d spent almost an entire day in a debate.
Was Jesus giving it one last try? Maybe this time they’d listen!
*We all need a Bethany. A place of rest after an exhausting day. A place of encouragement after feeling beat up? A place where people are for you, not against you.