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Reflections On “A Ransom For Many” — 10

Daniel Tan

Mark 11:1–12:44

Imagine if you rent out your house to a tenant and don't check in for an extended period of time. Imagine if you came back and they have turned your house into a gambling den. How would you react? You might be flipping mahjong tables the same way Jesus flipped the tables of merchants in the temple (Mark 11:15-17). Your house was never intended to become a gambling den and the temple of God a marketplace.

When God gave the vineyard to the tenants, He expected them to work hard and give him a good harvest for the pay He was giving them. Instead, they slaughtered every single one of the servants sent to retrieve that harvest even to God's own son (Mark 12:1-12).

The priests were corrupt to the highest degree. At some point of the Hasmonean Dynasty after Herod had taken up rule, the priests had sunk into this wicked and immoral love of all things worldly and had once again converted the temple into a place of sin rather than worship.

It was well known how corrupt the Sadducees (a group made up of many high ranking priests) were. They had been entrusted by the people to take over the iron fisted rule of the Seleucids due to their leadership in the Maccabean Revolt, but at some point had given in to the pleasures of the world. The tenants had become corrupt.

On the other hand, the Pharisees (a group made up of many rabbis) kept righteousness in the law, but were so enraptured by the legalism that they forgot the compassion God had commanded for His people. More important to them were the rules; but they lost the fact that the rules were made for the people, not the people for the rules. In that process, they made sure that their righteousness was on display for the rest; quite the juxtaposition to the secret giving of the widow who had little but gave much (Mark 12:41-44).

The fig tree that was expected to bear fruit but did not was meant to be burnt and torn down, because it had not fulfilled the duty God had given it, but instead chosen to go against that willfully (Mark 11:12-14). Yet there is a learning lesson here as well; our faith is stronger than any force of nature. If we believe that God can do something, then He can. Something especially pertinent in this time when we feel very much powerless against the threat of COVID. Pray. Pray hard and believe harder.

At this point in time, all dominions of Rome were to pay tribute to Caesar. The Bible often translates this as “give taxes”, but that translation fails to highlight the problem. This term does not refer to the same tax giving that we hand over to IRAS. Instead, the word phoros refers to giving tribute. The act of giving tribute was in essence an act of worship to Caesar; because Caesar had lifted himself up to godlike status. Paying tribute therefore was in a similar vein as the worship of the statue in the story of Daniel.

Yet it was a legal problem as well. If Jesus had told them not to pay tribute, they could easily get him arrested for trying to start a rebellion against Rome. That was the reason they thought they had put Jesus in a corner. The response however was this: you can give back to Caesar his dumb coin. But don't ever give Caesar the tribute of your worship because that belongs to God (Mark 12:13-17).

We are to give to God what He is owed for He has hired us for a purpose. Whatever the world wants and needs that the world has provided we can give it and are told to do so. But what belongs to God is our heart, gifts and efforts. He deserves the firstfruits of that. Just like the widow prioritised God over all else, should we not do the same?

Daniel Tan

Daniel is currently and forevermore will be a student and a learner, trying to delve into the deep conundrums of life and seeing where the path leads. He enjoys linking different things in life back to God through strange and seemingly random connections.

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