Without a doubt, Jesus is the one you want to be the captain of your debate team.
According to Matthew, after cleansing the temple on Monday, Jesus and disciples spend the night in nearby Bethany, probably with his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. When he returns to the temple on Tuesday to teach, the chief priests and elders are ready for Round Two. They pounce, demanding to know by whose authority he says and does such things.
Jesus deftly dodges the question, turning it around and leaving them looking foolish. Then one opponent after another steps up to spar verbally with him. The chief priests and elders. The Pharisees. The Herodians. The Sadducees. The Pharisees again. He silences them all.
Then Jesus goes on the offensive, speaking to the crowds, repeatedly denouncing the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy before retiring to the Mount of Olives with his disciples.
Hardly the picture of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” Imagine the disciples watching this, enjoying their Master’s rhetorical dominance, his unshrinking display of divine authority.
Then imagine them just a few days later, wondering what had happened.
I’m reminded that the public perception of evangelical Christians in America is that we can be a rather contentious lot. Sometimes, we speak the truth but not in love; people see us as defined by the enemies we oppose more than by the gracious God we serve.
But even while Jesus bested his opponents one by one, he did so with the full consciousness of being on his way to the cross. I wonder: is it possible for us to remember, even in the midst of trying to win an argument, that our calling is to serve others in loving sacrifice?
Lord, I have to admit: I might be the first to cheer Jesus from the sidelines as he crushed the competition, but the last to join him on the cross. As I walk with him through this Holy Week toward Easter, raise my defensive and deadened heart to new life, to love and compassion. Amen.