I often tell couples that there are two ways to listen to each other—either like a lawyer or like a counselor. A lawyer listens only enough to object, to jump in and make his or her case. He or she isn’t necessarily listening to understand, rather he or she is listening to respond.
On the other hand, a counselor listens to understand first, to get a full sense of the situation and surroundings, then respond. One way of looking at this, the lawyer-approach cares about power; the counselor-approach cares about truth.
The Pharisees and Sadducees listen to Jesus like lawyers (some of them were!) not at all like counselors.
In Matthew 22, we see each group take its turn at trying to trip Jesus up. The Pharisees try to trap Jesus into going against the Roman government (v. 17)—“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” They kept hearing Jesus speak of the Kingdom of God and they didn’t ask questions to understand it, they asked questions to “entangle him in his words” (v. 15). If they had asked Him about the Kingdom, Jesus would have explained that it is not of this world, that He Himself is the way to it, and that all who trust Him are welcome. Like the invited guests in the first part of Matthew 22, the Pharisees preferred their own power to the celebration of the Kingdom.
The Sadducees tried a different route. They had heard Jesus speaking of resurrection and didn’t ask what He meant; no, they thought they understood and could trap or confuse Him. So they tell a long story about seven brothers. Knowing the custom that if one brother dies, another brother is to marry the widow and raise up children for the late brother, they thought they could corner Jesus. What if each of the seven brothers ends up marrying this same widow since they all pass, whose wife will she be in the resurrection (v. 28)? Jesus didn’t flinch: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (v. 29).” When you listen to respond, when all you are thinking about is power, you almost always miss the heart of the issue.
In fact, the Pharisees and Sadducees missed out on Christ because they were after power not truth. John 3:19 says this: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” Romans 1 tells us that people know the truth about God they just suppress it. We prefer our own ways and our own kingdoms, but for the grace of God.
As I read this chapter, the thought that kept going through my mind was this: how do I read Scripture? Do I read and listen to understand? Or do I read and listen just enough to make it fit what I want it to say? It is interesting, the Rich Young Ruler from earlier in Matthew didn’t dispute what Jesus said, he just didn’t like it. Sometimes I think we read that way too—if we don’t like it, we often ignore it. Instead, if we read to understand, to hear the heart of God, we will be amazed like the crowds who watched as Jesus answered with wisdom and powerful truth, and we will bow in humble obedience.
May we see Jesus for who He is and receive His Word through the Spirit, desiring to know truth and follow His ways.