It's a Trap
Matthew 22:15-22 CEB
15Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.
This is the sermon given to Marietta First Christian Church on 10/19/14
Imagine with me a gigantic cardboard box, being held up with a long stick. Coming from the stick is a rope. Where does the rope lead? The rope goes from the stick to the brush where the disciples of the Pharisees and supporters of Herod or quietly giggling, “Tee Hee Hee!” It’s a trap! To Jesus, it’s a clear trap. Wiley Coyote, using Acme products, could lay a less obvious trap!
Let me explain just how obvious this whole thing is. First of all, you have the followers of Herod who really don’t care what the Law allows, just as long as you pay the tax. By this time, Romans had ceased most taxes to their own citizens because they could tax occupied countries, like Israel, instead. A few of the rulers would try to be as generous as possible with the people, trying to keep the taxes down. The Herodians were not one of these groups. Herod and his family in general, kinda had an ego complex. For goodness sake, he named at least three children after himself. Most people would stop at one, not Herod. He often played both sides of the field. On one side he rebuilt the temple, but on the other he put at big Roman Eagle at the entrance. Jesus would have known what the followers of Herod wanted to hear, and that they didn’t really care what the law had to say about it.
If you think the Herodians played both sides, well so did the Pharisees. Privately they loathed the temple tax. They weren’t too happy about that eagle either. They didn’t think it was biblical in the least. However, if one were to stand up against the tax it would label them a traitor to the Roman government and they most likely would be executed. They were hypocrites because they would rather allow the widow to put her food money into the pot and starve than stand up for her and face the consequences. Jesus would have known what the Pharisees wanted to hear, and the repercussions for saying it.
The trap was as simple as a box being held up with a stick. If Jesus called the tax unbiblical it would mean almost certain death. If Jesus suggested we should pay our taxes it would anger his supporters, possibly putting them into frenzy. They would possibly kill him for being a false prophet. What’s the son of God to do? Surely not walk into an obvious trap? No. As he had done two times before this moment, he disarms the trap laid out by the Pharisees. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and Give to God what is God’s.” BOOM! Mic drop; Jesus out. He leaves the Pharisee’s speechless, scratching their heads, and wondering what just happened.
Now this is the moment many ministers talk about taxes and whether the government does or does not fit into the church. Many more ministers use this scripture to launch a stewardship campaign to urge congregants to give more. You’re not going to get that today. Today, I want to talk about the Herodians and the Pharisees. The question of whether one pays their taxes wasn’t posed to get an honest answer. I repeat my initial statement: It was a trap!
When we look at scripture it’s always important to consider two things:
God acts from what we mean, not what we say. The Pharisees and Herodians were saying they wanted hear what Jesus thought about taxes. They were meaning to get Jesus killed. These are two very different things, and Jesus acted into their meaning rather than what they were saying. If Jesus was acting in what they were saying I imagine he would have pulled them aside and engaged in a dialogue. They might have explored the subject together over a meal. (That was kinda Jesus’ thing, talk over a meal.) Instead, he gives a one sentence response and moves on.
That’s where it is. That’s the point. When we seek to engage God in the world and in prayer, it really matters whether we are authentic with our words, because God is going to know the truth in our heart. I remember working through the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke 18. If you remember, they were both praying. From first glance you would think the Pharisee was being arrogant and the tax collector was being humble. In researching what the Pharisee was doing, I learned the he was going through a ritual to show humility. They were really doing the same thing, even though it looked different. It was their meaning behind their action that differentiated them. The tax collector was truly acting in humility, and the Pharisee was arrogant.
Where does that leave us? Y’all are in the process to find the next step in your spiritual journey. If you are finding that journey, it's going to help you rediscover what FCC Marietta is, and can get you on track to find a new senior minister, you will met with an important objective. It will not be good enough to say you want to go through the process. You must mean what you are saying as well. This is where many church revitalizations get derailed. They say one thing and mean another. God will not help you find your future, unless you are bold enough to act like you want to get it.
That’s where the celebration comes in. True, if we don’t mean what we say, we are likely to just get disarmed and nothing changes. But, if we mean what we say, we could get something real and substantial. Living water, if you are the woman at the well. Relationship, if you are Zacchaeus. Baptism, if you are the Ethiopian eunuch. What do you think God could give you if you ask for revitalization and mean it? There’s only one way to find out.