Matthew 22 15-22
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.
The easiest way to get trapped: By one’s words If one has reason to be suspicious of someone’s intent, it is best to say as little as possible. And, if possible, to avoid the meeting. A mentor of mine used to say that 90 percent of wisdom lies in remaining silent and not saying more than is necessary.
16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.
Brilliant strategy of the Herodians. What they said was absolutely true. And their “true flattery” could literally have disarmed Jesus.
However, their intent was to trap Jesus, which was why they praised him with absolute truth.
If you reason to believe that someone may be adversarial towards you, be careful of their praise. Beware of enemies bearing gifts.
The evil which people are capable of!! Most people would have soften towards anyone who praised them so fulsomely–and truthfully. However, their intent in doing so was to have him incriminate himself–so that they could turn him over to the Romans for execution. Wow!
17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
In trouble with the nationalistic Jews if he advised it; in trouble with the Romans if he did not.
ESV–Taxes were a volatile issue in Israel. All Rome’s subjects laboured under the empire’s heavy taxation. Some Jews believed that paying any tax to pagan people contradicted God’s lordship over his people.
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?
If seems clear that people are trying to trap you, don’t hesitate to “call” them. Calling a spade a spade clears the air.
If Jesus said it was right to pay taxes, he would lose favour with a tax-burdened people. If he said it was wrong, they could accuse him of insurrection.
19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Note the brilliance and strategy of Jesus. Not every question needs to be answered. A hostile question does not need to be answered. Or it can be answered by a counter-question.
We live in the secular realm, and are subject to the rulers of the secular realm. So pay them what they demand. And pay God what is rightfully his.
I used to despair in the past, reading of the poise and sang-froid and quick, calm thinking of Jesus. Would I ever have the calm, and presence of mind to come up with these brilliant, inspired answers if put on the spot?
However, Jesus does leave us advice for what to do when we are in these situations. Don’t worry too much about what you are going to say. The Holy Spirit will guide you. God can give one wisdom to amaze one’s enemies.
And last year, when I unexpectedly found myself embroiled in a very fraught situation by standing up (in now deleted blog posts) for someone who was wronged, and, it seemed, abusively treated , I was surprised to find myself calm, canny, careful, guarded and almost inspired in meetings with people who were trying to manipulate me and trap me in my words. So as Jesus promised, wisdom and guidance is given to us when we need it.
Is this a proof-text for the separation of church and state??