False Dilemmas

Scripture Focus: Mark 12.15-17
15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” 

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 

“Caesar’s,” they replied. 

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” 

And they were amazed at him.

Reflection: False Dilemmas
By John Tillman

A “false dilemma” or “false dichotomy” is an argument that attempts to pressure someone to agree to one of two bad answers. Despite being considered a logical fallacy, it is a commonly used rhetorical device.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were political and theological enemies who came together to pose just such an argument to Jesus.

The Pharisees stressed strict interpretation of the Law. They weren’t revolutionaries but many aspects of Roman rule were despicable to them, including using Roman currency. The denarius bore an image of Caesar, which was forbidden. (Exodus 20.4) It also was stamped, “Caesar is Lord.” To many Jews, even touching a denarius meant participating in blasphemy.

The Herodians were politically minded. Power through Rome was more important than principle. They saw Herod’s dynasty as politically expedient, despite their scandals and being descended from Esau rather than Israel. Herod the Great wanted to be seen as Israel’s messianic king. This is partly why he responded with genocidal violence in his attempt to kill Jesus after his birth.

These warring groups came together with a question intended to condemn Jesus as a political revolutionary or irreligious apostate. “Choose a side, Jesus,” they say.

Jesus refuses. 

Questions asked with an impure motive reveal much about the questioner. These questioners were concerned with power and influence, not truth. They were angry about their corruption being exposed, not concerned with moral purity. (Mark 12.12)

I used to read Jesus’ answers as “burns” and “mic drop” moments where he owned his opponents, humiliating them. In our culture, that’s how a “plain reading” sounds. But instead of intending harm, Jesus intended healing. His firm, gracious answers challenged their errors, yet offered a way forward. We may celebrate sick burns but Jesus celebrates merciful healing. 

Both the political and religious systems Jesus lived in were corrupt. Jesus chose to follow God within corrupt systems. That did not mean just going along to get along. He challenged religious and political assumptions of everyone, whether Pharisee, Roman, or Samaritan.

Many forces within and without the church pressure us to “choose a side” on many issues. We don’t have to choose from the options offered. False dilemmas are truth-avoidant.

This doesn’t mean that some mushy, non-committal-middle is the right answer. But it does mean that we don’t argue by humiliating our opponents. Like, Jesus, we can offer gracious answers that push for change without pushing people away.

From John: This devotional owes a lot to the And Campaign and their book, Compassion and Conviction. We recommend putting it at the top of your reading list.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 34 (Listen 4:18
Mark 12 (Listen 6:10)

Read more about Gift of Noticing
The other religious leaders lost their objectivity in their attempts to discredit Jesus, the wise teacher found a better path.

Read more about The King We Want
This humble king wasn’t what many wanted. Many rejected Jesus then. And many still reject him now.

Gift of Noticing

Scripture Focus: Mark 12.28; 34
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

From John: More than ever, we need the gift of noticing—especially when debating those with whom we disagree.

Reflection: Gift of Noticing
By John Tillman

Among all the debates and arguments with Christ that are recorded in scripture, one has always stood out to me and grown more important as I’ve grown older—the wise teacher of the law.

When I was younger, I was more interested in who this man was. Could it be Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night? Could it be Joseph of Arimathea? As I’ve grown older, I care less about his identity and more about his amazing gift of noticing the good in a perceived enemy.

Our culture is so adversarial, every interaction seems a zero-sum game. A guaranteed, click-driving word for content is “destroys,” as in, destroying your opponent. Sometimes this motivates people to literally attempt to destroy your opponents.

Our culture sees debate not as a learning experience but as a path to the domination of others through destruction. We have little in common with the rabbinical system of religious debate and question-driven teaching that Jesus knew. This process was normal and typically genial and healthy. We see it with Christ’s first visit to the temple as a child and throughout his ministry.

There were times (including in this chapter) Christ’s enemies attempted to get Jesus to say something that they could use to prove criminal intent. But, as the other religious leaders lost their objectivity in their attempts to discredit Jesus, the wise teacher found a better path.

Matthew’s account of this event leaves out the context of Mark—causing the question to seem more adversarial. But in Mark, the interaction plays out as more of a search for knowledge than an attack. The men connect with each other across their differences through the gift of noticing.

The wise teacher is not listening to attack or to destroy. He is not listening to craft a counter-argument. Through opposition and questioning, we see him find in Jesus a kinship and common ground of faith. The teacher notices Jesus; Jesus notices him.

Jesus came to seek and to save not to seek and destroy.

When we face opposition, when we question and argue, when we are confronted in debate, may we receive from the Holy Spirit the gift of noticing. May we notice our opposition, seeking to understand them, seeking to see them as Christ does. When we do, we will find how greatly they are loved by Jesus, who sees them.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Ye, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” — Matthew 11.28

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 26 (Listen – 4:04)
Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
This devotional from 2017 begs to be repeated. The world’s online language has gotten more, instead of less, brutal…more shocking, the language of many Christians and prominent Christian pastors has followed.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post helped you forgive?

Setting a New Standard

Mark 10.15-17
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Reflection: Setting a New Standard
By John Tillman

Many scholars believe that Jesus cleansed the temple of buyers and sellers repeatedly—every time he visited Jerusalem. The slight variance of accounts in scripture imply this. This interpretation also fits with the way that Jesus consistently attacked the cultural religious institutions that were slanted to benefit the powerful, the rich, and the politically connected. This included redefining his society’s concept of marriage.

In yesterday’s reading, Jesus stated views on marriage more strict than the most conservative religious sects of his day. Jesus reset the standard from “Moses allowed” to “God made.” In doing so, he stripped the power from husbands to dissolve their marriages for any reason.

Jesus made a distinction between what Moses allowed and what God desired. He described the law about divorce, which Moses wrote, as a concession to the hard-heartedness of people who were too selfish and unloving to live according to God’s original design. This teaching on marriage was so extreme that his own disciples despaired of marrying due to the harshness of his teaching, saying, “If this is the situation…it is better not to marry.

Jesus both affirms the deep, spiritual purpose of marriage as God’s original design for humanity, while rejecting the culture that had twisted marriage into a power play.

No matter what culture’s moving needle says is moral, what matters to Jesus is God’s design. In this Jesus continues to demand greater righteousness than that can be attained under the law. The gospel is that he also provides that righteousness

We are no less selfish and no more loving today than the people to whom Moses gave the law. We too are stiff-necked and hard-hearted. Sin wreaks havoc in more than just marriages. Our economy is driven by coveting. Our industries profit from lust and market accordingly. The laws of our governments show that concessions must be made for our brokenness, our lusts, our lack of wisdom, our rejection of self-control, our addiction to violence, and our never-ending covetousness.

In our brokenness, we need not despair at Christ’s harshest teachings. Jesus rejected the morally compromised thinking of his culture, while at the same time welcoming into his fellowship those in clear violation of what he taught.

May we humbly welcome all whom Christ calls. Whosoever they are. Whatsoever their sin. . .
May we humbly welcome all that Christ offers: critique and correction, leading ultimately to communion.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
When my mind became embittered, I was sorely wounded in my heart.
I was stupid and had no understanding; I was like a brute beast in your presence.
Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me by your counsel, and afterwards receive me with glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And having you I desire nothing upon earth. — Psalm 21-25

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 41 (Listen – 7:30) 
Mark 11 (Listen – 3:59)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 42 (Listen – 5:08), Mark 12 (Listen – 6:10)
Genesis 43 (Listen – 5:02), Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

Read more about It’s In The Bible
We need to read our culture—not just live in it— seeking guidance to understand what is considered acceptable to the world, but is not acceptable to God.

Read more about In Praise of Christ’s Righteousness
We cannot save ourselves. Praise God.
God specifically tells Ezekiel that not even the greatest, most righteous men he might trust in would be able to save the nation.