As I sat at my kitchen table taking care of my taxes this morning, I had a Jesus story pop into my head. The Pharisees were starting to get a little tired of Jesus. They were trying to figure out any way possible to convince either his followers that he was a false prophet not worth following or get the attention of the Romans.
“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caeser or not?” Perceiving their malicious intent, Jesus said “Why are you testing me, hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” They brought him a denarius. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked them. “Caesar’s,” they replied to him. Then he said to them, “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caeser’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:17-21)
So here, Jesus is in a tough position. He can either say that Jews should pay taxes to Rome or he can say that Jews shouldn’t pay taxes. Not very many good ways out of this one. The Jews were absolutely sick and tired of Roman oppression. They were not the free people that they believed that they should be. They were taxed by foreigners who wanted the land that God had given to them. They had already been oppressed by Babylon a few centuries prior and the first temple, built by Solomon, had been destroyed. They had a bad taste in their mouth and the anger was palpable. If Jesus said that they should pay taxes to their oppressors, he would turn the Jews against himself.
However, the other side of the coin (pun intended) is that if he tells the people not to pay Roman taxes, now the Romans will see him as a rebel, trying to incite the people into anarchy. Not something that they were terribly keen on. This option could put Jesus in jail or on a cross before his time.
It would seem that he is trapped by the cleverness of the Pharisees…..
But Jesus is too smart for them. He’s been out smarting them during his entire mission, why stop now. He knew that this was a trap that he didn’t want to fall into. Instead, his answer pleases both sides. The image on the coin is that of Caeser. So if it’s his, why not just give it back to him. Just make sure that you give to God what belongs to Him as well.
Just 2 verses later, some Sadducees try to trick him. They toss out a long and improbable scenario about a woman who marries a man and he dies with no children, so his brother marries her and he dies with no children and so on until we are 7 men into the scenario. Matthew even makes it a point to remind people that the Sadducees believe that no one will rise from death.
So now Jesus just flat out tells them “You are so wrong! You don’t know what the Scriptures say. And you don’t know anything about God’s power….Surely you have read what God said to you about people rising from death. God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So they were not still dead, because he is the God only of living people.” (Matt. 22:29, 31-32)
Jesus, once again, avoids being trapped by a nonsense question. He just lets the Sadducees know that they are completely wrong…about everything. Their beliefs on what happens when people die is kind of a pivotal distinction between themselves and other major Jewish sects of the time, including the Pharisees. He lets them know that not only are they wrong, but they obviously know nothing about God. WOW, talk about a smack in the face!!
Right after this story, the Pharisees try to trick him again. They just won’t relent. He doesn’t get trapped by them and instead schools them on faith once again. I won’t paraphrase it here. I’m sure he’s getting pretty tired of people trying to trick him into saying something that would make him look bad and I can almost picture him being annoyed that people would rather trick him than listen to what he is trying to teach. During verses 41-46, he turns the tables and asks them a question. He stumps them so bad, that no one was brave enough to ask him trick questions again.
People were trying to discredit Jesus throughout his ministry. He never faltered. Jesus kept on teaching. At the end of many stories of Jesus’ teaching, the people are amazed by what he says. This is a time with probably at least dozens of people standing on the streets shouting their message of salvation or repentance. They are in a region that many people from different cultures pass through, the Silk Road. There are likely teachers and prophets from many of those cultures on the street corners and in the markets. I’m willing to bet that the people that he is teaching to have listened to or at least heard of the messages of these other teachers, but they were amazed by what Jesus had to say.
Jesus is smarter than the average bear.