A Cycle – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 20
Why would these religious leaders of the people, these scholars of the law, want to entrap Jesus into a no win situation. They knew any answer he gave would cause either the Romans or the Jewish people to be upset. If Jesus said the tax should be paid the Jews who feel burdened by the tax are going to be unhappy. If he says it is not lawful, he is committing a very serious crime of inciting rebellion against the Roman’s rulers of Israel. Why would these “pillars of righteous” devise such a devious plan in their attempts to draw people away from believing in Jesus?
We must not forget how harsh Jesus’s words were as he pointed out their hypocrisy. These paragons of religious elitism loved to perform their strict adherence to the law for all to see. They loved to be praised for their ability to go beyond the demands of the law thus giving them a platform to look down on those who had trouble following the minimum standard of the law. They depended on their adherence to the rituals and laws to show others how “holy” they were compared to them. Remember Jesus telling them about the tax collector who how with head bowed, beating his chest cried out “have mercy on me Lord ”went away more justified than the Pharisee who was thanking God he was not like those sinners and extolled his own virtues (Lk. 11=8:11-14).
Perhaps a better question for us to think about is why God would inspire this parable to be part of what he is telling us today. Is he telling us something about being part of society means we have obligations to be participants in the society in which we live? Meaning we are obligated to pay taxes, respond to the call to duty when it is required of us and support our local, regional, state, and federal government. Particularly true as we are less than three weeks from an election in every branch of government. Particularly true since it seems that there is a deep divide between parties and suggestions of upheaval if things do not go the way we think they should. Jesus tells us to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar meaning we cannot opt out being active participants in supporting the structure which supplies us with things we take for granted in society. We take for granted trash pickup, fire departments, handling of zoning disputes, courts to handle other disputes and enforce the justice code, upkeep of parks and recreation areas.
But for me I believe we all get that part of the parable but can easily dismiss the challenge of Jesus to examine ourselves and how we render to God. This I believe is the real point of the parable and Jesus wants to make sure we do not get deceived by others who will tell you to follow their wisdom. There is only one wisdom which should guide us and that is the wisdom of God and he is revealing that wisdom in this parable. Let us never forget the words of Jesus when he told us “…if someone strikes you on the cheek offer him the other one as well.” If someone asks for you coat offer him your cloak as well. If someone borrows from you do not expect repayment” (Mt. 5:38-41). Each of these things Jesus is telling us to do go against the laws followed by those righteous Pharisees.
Why is this important for us to meditate on and allow those demands on us by God to convict us of being at a minimum a Pharisee Light.
The truth is it is easier for us to become Pharisees for it does not demand any more than obedience. Whereas Jesus is telling us God demands conversion of the heart and mind and for us to become disciples. Discipleship is rendering to God what is God’s, and we cannot dodge the issue by avoiding the words of Jesus and instead of responding to Jesus we choose to adhere to the words of the law. Note how the Pharisees love to get into theological discussions and why not because they have convinced themselves they have found the path that leads to God. Instead Jesus avoided the theological question they used to trap him and instead Jesus showed them the only important issue we will ever face is will we surrender to God. Or will we choose to parade our faith as a cloak of honor while our hearts remain closed to God.