For the Pharisees, the dispatching of the Sadducees with their tail between their legs must have been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they were pleased because their belief in bodily resurrection had been confirmed conclusively by Jesus. And he did so by explaining the Sadducees’ favourite scriptures. However, on the other hand, the dialogue had further elevated Jesus’ reputation and strengthened his teaching with the general public.
Their disciples had come up short with the Herodians and Sadducees, so now they held a meeting to hatch a grand new plan. They picked out a ‘law-expert’ to take another pass at Jesus. When Matthew says something about a teacher of the law he tends to use the word ‘scribe’. On this occasion, he uses the word ‘nomikos’ meaning an ‘expert’ in the law. Luke talks a number of times about ‘law-experts’ in his Gospel but this is the only occasion it is used by Matthew. Possibly, he is trying to tell us that this person sent to question Jesus was on this occasion someone who truly deserved the description!
As we have learned in our readings of passion week in Matthew and will be reminded another seven times as we read Chapter 23, there was a very real deep-held hostility towards Jesus from the Pharisees. Through the extra dialogue between the law expert and Jesus, revealed to us by John Mark’s account (Mark 12), we discover, by Jesus’ answer with an absence of rebuke, the gentleman asked a worthwhile question. In fact, he gains praise from Jesus as he ‘saw that he answered wisely’ and comments ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’.
Remember, this is the man handpicked as an expert by the Pharisees to trap Jesus. Did they not really know this man? Was he at first hostile then won over by Jesus and his answer? We don’t really know. But why does Jesus respond so differently to this law-expert than his other interrogators that day?
After all, Jesus’ answer would not have come as a bolt from the blue for the expert. ‘The Schma’, is the centrepiece of Jewish daily morning and evening prayer services. The phrase, taken from Deuteronomy; ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might’ was well known, as was Exodus 19:18 ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’.
It is then no surprise that the law expert listens and affirms the truth when he hears it. We would expect him to believe Jesus’ answer to be a basically agreed-upon interpretation of what is the greatest commandment, but we would not expect him to add in, “…is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” – Mark 12:33
He hasn’t quite put together that Jesus is the Messiah or understands he needs to repent, turn around, leave his own way and jump on board with Jesus. However, he gets it is not about the ‘burnt offerings and sacrifices’ he had built his whole life around. We have no way of knowing if the law expert continued his spiritual journey and finally took the step of throwing himself lock, stock and barrel into the Jesus bandwagon. But we know that Jesus provided a helping hand to someone who was, at the very least a sceptic, pointing him towards the way.
Let us always be ready to take the time to answer even the sternest critic with care and love pointing them towards the loving sacrifice of Christ on their behalf. We don’t know who is ‘not far from the Kingdom of God’ but God does. Remember, God wants us to B.L.E.S.S others who do not yet follow Jesus: B.egin with prayer. L.isten to them. E.at with them. S.erve them. S.hare your story.
Today, picture that family member, work colleague or friend who doesn’t yet have a relationship with Jesus. Consider their circumstances and needs. And pray to God specifically mentioning them by name. You may wish to write it down and start to pray each day. When you meet up with them, take time to really listen and adjust how you pray for them. Then in the next few weeks look for an opportunity to eat with them. At home, in a restaurant or coffee shop it really doesn’t matter but remember ‘listen’ and look for opportunities to ‘serve’ them and ‘share’ your Jesus story.
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series