The Tuesday was a day of verbal conflict.
It was a day of interrogation. It was a day of cunning and deception and flattery. For the Chief Priests, the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and Herodians all sought to test Him.
They did so publicly, hoping to drive a wedge between Him and the one thing preventing them from undertaking the assassination they desired: the will of the mob, come to listen. But their words would not prevail in this regard. Impatience and the fickleness of human nature would succeed where treachery failed.
He went early to the Temple to teach.
First came the Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees with the question: by what authority do you act?
He answered with a question of His own: was the baptism of John from heaven, or of men?
It was a question loaded with implications. If they answered from heaven, they would condemn themselves as hypocrites for their rejection of God and His prophet. And if they answered by man, they would offend the multitude, who revered John the Baptist. So after discussing their options they replied as best they could: we don’t know.
And His response was better: if you won’t answer My question, I will not answer yours.
But He immediately launched into the Parable of the Vine Dressers, which extended the words of warning from Isaias to the ungrateful Jewish nation.
It went like this: A landowner made a vineyard and built a press and let it out. And when the time came, he sent his servants to collect payment from those who ran the vineyard, but they were beaten and killed. So the landowner sent more servants, but again they were killed. So he sent his son, saying they will respect him. But the son was also killed. So the landowner came and utterly destroyed those who had killed his son and let out the vineyard to those would render a just payment.
This enraged the Pharisees, who knew that He was referring both to Himself and to them. Their fathers had killed the prophets and now the Son had come, whom they also sought to kill. As a result, they would be destroyed and cast out from the vineyard, which would be given to others. Their interrogation had resulted in nothing more than the most brutal rebuke.
So the Pharisees consulted amongst themselves and decided upon a line of questioning designed to ensnare Him in a political controversy, pitting Him between the Romans and the mob.
They sent spies along with the Herodians, who began with cunning flattery:
“Master, we know that thou art a true speaker…”
And then came the most difficult question they could conjure:
“Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or no?”
In 1620, Bartolomeo Manfridi painted Il tributo a Cesare.
It is located at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy
If He answered yes, the mob would turn, driven by their Jewish pride and hatred of the Romans. And if He said no, then He could be denounced before the Roman authorities as one seeking to ferment revolt.
He did not fall for the trap.
“Knowing their wickedness (He) said: Why do you tempt me, ye hypocrites?
Shew me the coin of tribute. And they offered Him a penny.
And (He) saith to them: Whose image and inscription is this?
They say to Him: Caesar’s. Then He saith to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.
And hearing this, they wondered and, leaving Him, went their ways.
The inscription of Caesar.
Next it was the turn of the Sadducees to question Him. They differed from the Pharisees in their understanding of Jewish law and sought to bring Him undone on a doctrinal issue: the resurrection of the body (which they denied).
They outlined the premise to the question: there were seven brothers, the oldest of whom had married a woman. But he died and so the woman was married by the next brother, until she had married seven times and outlived her seven deceased husbands. The Sadducees asked: whose wife would she be in heaven?
Again this question was designed to test Him in front of the crowds and to discredit Him. It was obvious that a woman could not have seven husbands in heaven. The Sadducees believed that this proved there was no bodily resurrection.
But He answered that in heaven there would be no marriage and that the Sadducees did not know their own scripture. God is the God of the living, not the dead.
This answer amazed the crowd but silenced the Sadducees. It brought them together with their rivals, the Pharisees. They were united by their hatred of Him.
He was asked one final question: what is the greatest commandment? His answer is one that we all know.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind.
This is the greatest and first commandment.
And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Of course, this commandment is emasculated today. The primary exhortation to love God is rejected because God is rejected. And without God, the command to love thy neighbour as thyself means something else entirely. When each man is their own god, the neighbour is nothing more than a slave.
But now it was His turn to go on the attack. He asked a pointed question, obviously referring to Himself. Who’s son was the Messiah? The Pharisees answered according to Jewish prophecies: the Messiah would come from the House of David.
Why then, He asked, did David call the Messiah ‘Lord’. The answer was evident: because the Messiah was greater than David. But the Pharisees could not bring themselves to say it.
He then savaged the Pharisees before the multitude, calling them out as blind hypocrites. His language is compelling in its intensity:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful but within are full of dead men’s bones and of all filthiness.
So you also outwardly indeed appear to men just: but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, that build the sepulchres of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the just,
And say: If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them that killed the prophets.
Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
You serpents, generation of vipers, how will you flee from the judgment of hell?
Yes, He believed in Hell. He also warned those who hated Him that they were headed in that direction. These words fly in the face of popular sentiment that He is nice. He is not. He is something better: truthful.
And those words most definitely apply today. Each of us are Pharisees in our own way.
And there the verbal combat ended. The separate camps withdrew. But the tension had only risen. A crisis was at hand because the entire system was being shaken to its very foundations.
He returned to Bethany. On the way, He again foretold to the Twelve the destruction of Jerusalem. For those impatient for Him to seize power, it must have been disturbing, demoralising and disconcerting.
That was the Tuesday.
During the verbal conflict of the Tuesday, the widow entered the Temple and gave all that she had.
The moment was depicted beautifully by James Jacques Tissot in the late 19th century.
See also in this series:
- The Sunday before
- The Monday
- The Tuesday
- The Wednesday
- The Thursday
- The Friday
- The Saturday
- The Sunday
I have relied heavily on Guiseppe Ricciotti’s book, Life of Christ, for this article. It was translated by Alba I. Zizzamia and published by the Mercier Press, Ireland in 1955. It carries the imprimatur of the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Moses Kiley, dated 6 February, 1952.