Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 16, 2014

no tricks, just truth

It has happened to you, and it has happened to me.  Someone has tried to trap us with words. In a less than noble manner, there was intent to use our words against us.  Sad, but true!  And once it happens, there is a tendency to never fully trust the “trapper” again. This morning I was thinking about how the Pharisees sought to trap Jesus with words, and how masterfully He answered their question.  While thinking about His wisdom, I remembered a not-so-comfortable exchange that unsettled me thirty years ago.

My wife and I were working for a Christian organization in Florida, and the leaders left town for a seminar right after a potentially high-profile decision filtered to the press. That decision? … Our students weren’t allowed to attend a Michael Jackson concert in Miami.  He could moon walk all he wanted, just not with our students in attendance!  Somehow the decision leaked to the news media (did I mention that our leaders were away?!), and I got a call from a Canadian radio station. Before I could catch my breath, my words were in total “trapped mode” as we were viewed as  radical, ultra conservative … you name it. I was about 30 years old and no match for the masterful trapper.  Totally over-matched and being trapped with words was not fun.

When I look at how Jesus countered the trappers in Matthew 22:15-22, I am impressed with both His words and His wisdom. As you read the verses from The Message translation, note the trap, His wisdom, and His words.

That’s when the Pharisees plotted a way to trap him into saying something damaging. They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students. So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 

Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me? Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece. “This engraving—who does it look like? And whose name is on it?” They said, “Caesar.”

“Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.” The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.

It was an unholy alliance that sought to trap Jesus. Disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians were not close; they were enemies. But in this specific circumstance they are aligning themselves to trap Jesus. The Pharisees opposed the poll tax. The Herodians were a political group who supported a Roman backed Herodian dynasty. Jesus was definitely trapped. The words, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” placed Him in a precarious position. Opposing the tax would place Him at odds with the Romans. Approving the tax would cause Him trouble with the Jews. He was trapped … a Catch 22 … a no-win situation!  With a stroke of genius He stated, “Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is His.” With great wisdom, His words silenced the two groups … and they went away confounded.

The real intent of the dialogue with Jesus was not to ascertain His view on paying taxes to Caesar. Their purpose was to trap, but Jesus masterfully and truthfully answered their loaded question. And in the process, gave us all a timeless, capital “T” Truth for our lives today. Christ-followers are to honor and obey the “Caesar’s” of their day (and that includes paying taxes). At the same time, our first allegiance is to God … and God alone. Wisdom responds vertically to our Father and horizontally to those in authority.

On a personal level, I am thrilled that God offers His followers wisdom (James 1:5). And reading the words of Jesus continues to supply me with that wisdom, and is my perfect portion of daily bread. You and I can navigate the traps by applying His wisdom and grace. Sure, we won’t do it perfectly, but we can respond to the “trapper” as He did.

Will you allow me one last personal insight from this passage?  Jesus dealt with the trap in a straight and forthright way. It is easy to ignore, avoid, or even retaliate when words are meant to trap us. Follow his example to be truthful, not tricky.  His wisdom speaks truth, and only confounds the heart and mind that chooses not to believe.


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