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They all return to Jerusalem, where some of Jerusalem's top dogs confront Jesus while he is walking within the precinct of the temple.
They want to know by what authority he does what he does.
Jesus promises to tell them as long as they answer a question for him. Was John's work of baptizing inspired by heaven or was it a purely human project?
The top dogs take some time to talk this over. It's kind of tricky because either way they answer they're in trouble with the crowd. So they play dumb, "We dunno."
That answer's not part of the deal, which means that Jesus doesn't have to answer their question either. But maybe he sort of has answered in an understated way.
Jesus goes on the offensive with another parable.
A guy plants a vineyard with a nice fence, press, and tower, leases it to farmers, and departs.
After harvest, the owner sends his servant to collect what they owe him. But the farmers beat him up and send him away empty-handed.
The owner sends another, whom they likewise maltreat, and then another, whom they kill. This happens to many servants.
Finally, the owner sends his son, expecting that they will respect his own flesh and blood.
Instead, the farmers reason that by killing him, they can take his inheritance for themselves.
Jesus concludes that the owner will take justice into his own hands, destroy the farmers, and lease the vineyard to others.
Jesus quotes Psalms 118:22-23, which states that the rejected stone is the corner stone. Translation: the elite's rejection of Jesus proves his importance, as scripture foresaw.
Jerusalem's top dogs want to arrest Jesus, but his popularity with the crowd means a major obstacle. They aren't stupid. They know that Jesus directed the parable against them.
They send some other elites to do their dirty work. This time, Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus into saying something that will get him in trouble with the Roman brass.
They start by buttering Jesus up. He teaches truth and shows no favoritism.
Then they pop a big one. Does paying the Roman government tribute jive with the Torah?
Seeing through their flattery and recognizing their trap, Jesus asks for a denarius (moolah). They give him one, and Jesus asks whose picture and name are on it.
It's the Roman emperor's picture and name. The emperor at the time when the story takes places was Tiberius.
Jesus tells them to pay Caesar what's his and God what's God's.
The only comeback anyone has is awe at his quick wit.
Next at bat are the Sadducees, who reject the concept that at some point in history there will occur a general resurrection of the dead. They proceed to present Jesus with an argument that shows this idea as inconsistent with scripture.
They cite the legal stipulation that a brother take his deceased brother's wife and raise for him an heir in the event that he died childless (this is straight out of Deuteronomy 25:5-6).
Next, they elaborate a hypothetical case. Say seven brothers receive one wife, but all die childless. Whose wife will she be when the resurrection occurs? And we thought the ACT was hard.
Jesus replies that these guys are sadly misguided.
First, they don't understand the power of God, who will transform everyone into angels at the resurrection. No one's going to care about marriage anymore.
Second, they don't really get scripture. Moses writes that God declared at the burning bush that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (check out Exodus 3:6).
God rules the living, not a bunch of dead patriarchs. What conclusion should we draw? Moses himself implies that the resurrection will happen.
A scribe really enjoys watching Jesus slam dunk the Sadducees and asks Jesus the first earnest question he's gotten all day. "Which commandment is the first of all?" (12:29).
This is easy. It's in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which commands that you love the only God with all you've got—your heart, life, mind, and the fiercest might you can muster.
For good measure, Jesus adds the second-most important command. It's in Leviticus 19:18, which commands that you love your neighbor as yourself.
The scribe totally agrees. That's refreshing.
The scribe deduces that loving God and neighbor is more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Jesus is impressed. The scribe gets an A+ and is near God's kingdom.
After Jesus dispenses with all of Jerusalem's top dogs—chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees—no one has any more pluck to confront Jesus with any more religious questions.
So Jesus poses a question himself: "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David?" (12:35).
Jesus argues that this really doesn't make sense because David calls him Lord in Psalms 110:1. What's up with that?
The large crowd sure was enjoying all of this.
Jesus warns the crowd about the scribes, whose values are all wrong. They love fancy robes and distinctions, like their reserved seats in synagogues and their places of honor during dinner parties.
The jerks take advantage of widows, who are among the most disenfranchised of their people, and all the while pray pretentious prayers.
Jesus sits before the treasury, which is located within the precinct of the temple.
Many wealthy people offer their costly contributions, but Jesus notices an impoverished widow, who offers two coins of the lowest currency.
He tells his disciples that the widow's contribution is proportionately greater than that of the wealthy, for she offered everything she had, while the others kept a whole bunch for themselves.