Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has come to an end. After leaving Zacchaeus behind in Jericho, Jesus went up from the Jordan Valley to the heights of Bethany, which rise over Jerusalem toward the east (Lk 19:11-34). Jesus then entered Jerusalem in triumph, an event we commemorate on Palm Sunday (28-44). Immediately after, he entered and cleansed the Temple (45-48).
‘They are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.’ (Lk 20:36)
How has Christ taught you the resurrection?
Do you live as if your life has eternal consequence?
With whom can you share Christ’s promise of
Luke then recounts something extraordinary. Jesus returns to the Temple daily, where he teaches and interprets the Scriptures. He draws on passages from the Prophets (Lk 20:1-8, probably a reference to Dn 7:14, and Lk 20:9-19), the Psalms (Lk 20:41-44) and, in this Sunday’s Gospel passage, the Torah.
Throughout these interactions Jesus encounters hostile opponents. His presence in the Temple is provocative, especially after he drove out the money changers and vendors on his earlier visit. Several people try to trick him into saying something that will get him arrested. Readers of Luke’s Gospel realize something that these opponents do not: Jesus is secure in his Father’s house.
In fact, the Temple is a framing device for Luke’s entire Gospel. Luke’s account begins when Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the Temple, promising the birth of a son. Luke’s Gospel ends with the apostles spending their days in the Temple praising God as they await the descent of the Spirit. This Sunday’s Gospel passage, too, closes a narrative opened in the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel. When Jesus was left behind in the Temple as a boy, he spent his time with the teachers of Torah, “listening to them and asking them questions; all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers” (Lk 2:46-47). This time, however, his interlocutors are hostile, and the stakes are his very life.
In this Sunday’s passage, the topic is the resurrection. Although the topic is well developed in later Jewish writings, like the prophecy of Daniel, the most important texts of the Hebrew Scriptures (from Genesis through Deuteronomy) do not overtly mention it. For some of the characters in today’s reading, this omission renders the teaching suspect. They pose a question to Jesus that they believe will make the whole idea of resurrection unravel. Jesus subverts their question and reduces his questioners to silence by pointing out an implicit mention of the resurrection in Ex 3:2-16. He counters with his own question, to which they give no answer. Luke makes sure to show his readers that Jesus has nothing to fear in his Father’s house; he is the master of every argument and the authentic teacher of Israel’s religious tradition.
This is important to remember today. Evidence all around us can call into question any belief in eternal life. Under this questioning, Christianity can devolve into a purely moral venture—just one of many ethical systems that produce good behavior. But if we trust, as Luke did, that Jesus had deeper insights into God’s action, then new realities suggest themselves. Jesus teaches in this Sunday’s Gospel that every one of us lives a life of eternal consequence. Like him, we must live each day secure in the knowledge that, someday, we will rise again.