Summary: Jesus' response to the Pharisees and the Herodians when they tried to trick him with a question about taxes.
Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding, Jr. starred in the 1996 movie, “Jerry McGuire.” Tom Cruise played a sports agent with only one client. Cuba Gooding, Jr. played an NFL receiver who made the line, “Show me the money, Jerry! Show me the money!” famous. In our passage today, the religious leaders ask Jesus a trick question about paying taxes and He responds by saying, “Show me the money!”
We’re now in a section of Matthew were Jesus is being grilled by the Jewish religious mafia. In the next two messages, we’ll examine two foolish questions they asked Jesus. The purpose of these two questions was to cause Jesus to incriminate Himself, but Jesus gave wise answers to foolish questions.
Sometimes questions can be absurd, even stupid. There’s a collection of funny questions lawyers have actually asked people under oath. I need to preface this by saying some of my best friends are lawyers, and I’m certain they would never ask these kinds of questions. Here are actual questions taken from court records:
1. “Now, doctor isn’t it true that when a person dies in their sleep they don’t know about it until the next morning?”
2. “The youngest son, the 20-year-old, how old is he?”
3. “Was it you or your younger brother who was killed in the war?”
4. “Were you present when your picture was taken?”
5. Sometimes it’s a follow-up question that’s funny: Question: “Can you describe the individual?” Answer: “He was about medium height and had a beard.” Question: “Was this a male or a female?”
6. Sometimes it’s the answer that’s funny, not the question: Question: “All your answers must be verbal. Where did you go to school?” Answer: “Verbal.”
7. Question: “You were shot in the fracas?” Answer: “No, I was shot between the fracas and the navel.”
Now let’s examine the question the Jewish religious mafia asked Jesus.
Matthew 22:15-22. “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.”
What’s wrong with this picture? The Pharisees and Herodians were joining forces against Jesus. These two groups were on the opposite extremes of Jewish culture. The Herodians were a secular group who supported the Romans, and the Pharisees were a spiritual group who hated the Romans. It would be like the KKK joining forces with the NAACP. But the Pharisees and the Herodians wanted to get rid of Jesus. They demonstrated the old saying, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
Did you notice the Jewish leaders approached Jesus under the cloak of flattery? They buttered Him up by saying that He was a man of integrity and a great teacher. Flattery isn’t the same thing as a true admiration. Flattery is patting someone on the back to find the soft spot to insert the dagger. Flattery is just gossip in reverse. Gossip is saying something bad behind a person’s back that you would never say to his face; flattery is saying something good to a person’s face that you would never say behind his back. Flattery is mouth-to-mouth manipulation.
After softening Jesus up with a few short jabs of flattery, they slipped in their knockout question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” As soon as this question was asked, I can almost hear the Jewish leaders giggling with glee, because they were certain Jesus was trapped with no room for escape. Don’t you hate questions where the questioner restricts you to only yes or no? It’s like that old question, “Are you the only idiot in your family?” They thought it was a “yes or no” question. If Jesus said “yes,” all the people who expected the Messiah to liberate them from the Romans would have deserted Him. On the other hand, if Jesus said, “No,” the Romans would have arrested Him on the spot for treason.
Instead, Jesus, who didn’t even possess a coin, said to them, “Show me the money!” As He held up the Roman denarius, He asked His own question. He asked, “Whose image and inscription is on this coin?” The coin was a Roman denarius which had the image of Tiberius Caesar stamped on it. The inscription on the flip side says in Latin, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” By way, the coin itself was blasphemous to good Jews, because it bore a graven image, which violated the Second Commandment.