Summary: PENTECOST 22, YEAR A - Jesus in the temple where he tells the pharisees to "give to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s
One day Satan was traveling through the villages of India with his attendants. Along the way, he noticed a man doing a walking meditation. The man’s face was lit up in wonder. Apparently, the man had just discovered something on the ground in front of him. Satan’s attendants, noticing the glow emanating from the man, asked Satan what it was the man had discovered. Satan replied, "He has discovered a piece of truth." "But evil one!" exclaimed one of his entourage, "Doesn’t this bother you when someone finds a piece of the truth?" "No," said Satan. "I am not troubled in the least." "But why not?” insisted his attendants. "Because," replied Satan, chuckling, "Right after they discover some truth, they make it into an absolute decree."
It is very common for people to seek out absolutes by which to live. But it is a sign of spiritual barrenness to conceive everything in terms of black and white. It is a sign of spiritual poverty when everything is reduced to right or wrong, true or false, proper or improper. It is a sign that you do not understand and appreciate God’s world when you look at a person and declare, without qualification, that he is either good or bad, a sinner or a saint. The Pharisees were the good church people of their day, and yet they were spiritually poor. Because they were poor, they looked at Jesus and got very confused. Actually, Jesus taught many things about the Kingdom of God that they could agree with, things like - God will judge evil doers and condemn them. Yet Jesus associated with people who were obvious doers of evil: prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, and the like. The Pharisees could not understand that. They were also uncertain about how to classify Jesus because he taught that obedience to God and his law was necessary, yet he healed people and allowed his disciples to pick corn on the Sabbath day. Jesus also bothered them, because while he taught the importance of holiness, a concept that was a part of their faith. He kept condemning the very people who seemed to them to be the most holy people, the teachers of the law, and the hard working priests at the temple. Jesus disturbed the Pharisees, He upset the world they had created by their absolutes. And so they ended up rejecting Jesus, because what he said and did would not fit into their neat little boxes, those boxes which defined for them what was good and what was bad; what was holy and what was unholy.
THE TRAP IS LAID
One day - after having decided that Jesus was a danger to the true faith of Israel, (at least to the faith as they defined it,) The Pharisees decide to trap Jesus in his own words. They decide to question him about his stand on the poll tax, the tax that every person in the Roman Empire had to pay to Caesar. They decide to ask Jesus if paying taxes to Caesar is lawful, knowing full well that if he says NO - then the Roman authorities would arrest him
for treason, and that if he says YES - then many of the people would reject him for blasphemy, because it would imply that he did not believe Israel was God’s chosen nation.
They believed that their question was exceptionally clever, and it was. As a black and white question for the time and place that Jesus was in, it was a hard one to beat. It was the kind of question that gets a person, and damns them no matter how they answer it, like the question posed by the old joke: WHEN DID YOU STOP BEATING YOUR WIFE? Let there be no mistake, the Pharisees and the Herodians, were out to get Jesus. They could not accept what he did and what he claimed because his actions and his claims did not fit their preconceptions of what God was like and how God worked in the world.
THE TRAP IS THROWN
The scriptures say that Jesus knew their evil intentions and said to them; YOU HYPOCRITES - WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO TRAP ME? SHOW ME THE COIN THAT IS USED FOR PAYING THE TAX. The Scripture then goes on to tell us that the coin is produced and that Jesus asks them "WHOSE IMAGE AND INSCRIPTION IS ON THE COIN" They reply - CAESAR’S And Jesus answers them - SO GIVE TO CAESAR WHAT IS CAESAR’S AND GIVE TO GOD WHAT IS GOD’S... You hypocrites, Jesus said, Why are you trying to trap me?..... Hypocrisy is defined in dictionaries as claiming a virtue one does not have. It comes from the root word in the Greek - to play a part or to act on the stage. The part, or role, that the Pharisees were playing was the role of the holy, and Jesus, by calling them hypocrites, suggests that they are not really people who know God, and understand his law. The Pharisees are called hypocrites by Jesus, not just because they are trying to trap him, they are called hypocrites by Jesus, because they refuse to go beyond what they knew of God.