Summary: Jesus’ wisdom and understanding of the Pharisee and Herodian treachery foils their attempt to trap Him in in His speech.
CAESAR’S COIN FOILS PHARISEES AND HERODIANS
Our Gospel lesson this morning comes immediately after Jesus tells the scribes and the chief priest the parable of the wicked tenants. Jesus really displeased the scribes and the chief priests with that parable because they realized that the parable was aimed at them. So, the Pharisees and the Herodians began to plot and scheme against Jesus to do away with Him. They weren’t going to let Jesus get away with his accusations and finger pointing. But Jesus was aware of their schemes.
Many years ago a strong young Indian decided to climb to the summit of a nearby snow-capped mountain peak. He donned his buffalo-hide shirt, wrapped his blanket around himself and set off. When he at last reached the top of the mountain and gazed over the endless panorama below, feeling the cold against him, he swelled with pride over his accomplishment.
Then he saw a motion at his feet. It was a snake, which promptly and pitifully spoke to him. “I’m about to die,” said the snake. “It’s too cold for me here and I am freezing. There is no food, and I’m starving. Please wrap me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.”
“No,” said the young man. “I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake, and if I pick you up, you will bite me and kill me.”
“No,” said the snake. “I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you’ll be special and I’ll not harm you.”
At last the youth gave in to the creature’s pleading and tucked the snake under his shirt. Arriving down in the valley, he removed it and laid the snake on the ground. Whereupon the snake immediately coiled, rattled, struck, and planted his deadly fangs in the young man’s leg.
“But you promised,” said the young man, falling, feeling the deadly venom enter his bloodstream.
“You knew what I was when you picked me up,” said the serpent, slithering away.
And just as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning and craftiness, the Pharisees and the Herodians tried to do the same with Jesus. But Jesus knew who they were and what scheme they were planning. He wasn’t going to let Himself fall into their trap.
You see, the Pharisees came up with a sneaky plot to trap Jesus in His speech. By doing this the schemers tried to sway the people to turn against Jesus. First they got together with the Herodians, whom the Pharisees barely tolerated, and cooked up a plot.
They decided to send some young Herodian and Pharisee scholars to talk to Jesus. As young scholars, it was intended to make them appear as if they were seeking information rather that trying to trap Jesus. The Herodian and Pharisee scholars were instructed to pretend that they had an argument and they wanted Jesus to settle the argument for them.
When these young scholars came to Jesus they began praising Him and flattering Him, just as the snake flattered the Indian by telling him how special he was. These young scholars tried to win Jesus over in the same way. When they thought they had won Him over, they sprung the trick question on Him: “Is it permissible for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Lk. 20:22 TNJB)
Here was the dilemma – the Pharisees hated the taxes that they were expected to pay to the Roman Government. On the other hand, the Herodians supported the taxes. The plotters against Jesus wrongly assumed Jesus would answer their question by choosing one side or the other. If he said, “No, it is not lawful to pay the taxes,” the Herodians would hand Him over to the Roman authorities labeling Him a rebel and a traitor to Caesar. If He said “Yes”, they should pay the taxes; Jesus would have made the Pharisees unhappy. The Pharisees in turn would go to the people and tell them that Jesus was not the Messiah because a true Savior would not suggest that the people pay taxes to their invaders.
The two groups thought they had Jesus right where they wanted Him. Whatever side he chose, His response would seal His doom. The Pharisees and the Herodians hated each other and they felt that Jesus couldn’t possibly satisfy both sides at the same time.
But Jesus was aware of their cunning scheme, so he asked them to show Him a denarius. As He flipped the coin from one sided to the other there was a stamp of the Emperor Tiberius Caesar on one side and his title – Pontifex Maximus, on the other side of the coin. Then to the surprise and amazement of all Jesus said, “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and God what belongs to God.” (Lk. 20:25 TNJB) Notice, He didn’t say, pay to Caesar or to God. He said pay to Caesar and to God. If He would have said pay to Caesar or to God, then it would have meant that they didn’t have to pay to both but just to one. This must have been a real slap to their face.