Dear Sisters and Brothers,
On the same day that Jesus is questioned about his authority (in chapter 11), he is confronted by two other groups of people who want to entrap and embarrass him. Both groups plan on outwitting him in public debate, but both groups are defeated, amazed, and even more determined to bring his downfall.
Early Christians will later identify Jesus as the Word of God (the power of God to create), but also as the Wisdom of God as described in the book of Proverbs (even though Proverbs describes Wisdom as female). In Proverbs 8, Wisdom speaks about being with God before the beginning of creation and being part of all of God’s works and plans. So, Jesus is not only seen as being good at debate but being the source of rational thought.
If we are open about our Christian beliefs, we are likely to be challenged someday by the questions of others. The problem with that is that most people don’t understand the difference between a sound argument and unsound arguments. A modern political debate (no matter which party) is so full of unsound arguments that they should have referees with rule books handing out penalties.
People who ridicule Christianity often make the false assumption that things are proven wrong if you can imagine they are wrong. For example, “I can imagine the world is flat, so it must be flat.” Another remarkable thing is that people imagine that their opinion changes reality, so a person who has lost their faith imagines that God’s existence is based on their faith. A person who says “god is dead” is actually saying either “my faith is dead” or “I believe that god is dead.” It doesn’t kill me if someone believes that I am dead, and the same applies to everyone (including God).
In fact, logic works beautifully and gives us all sort of information, but it only applies to things that can be measured from the outside. There are all sorts of things that can’t be measured because we only sense them from the inside (like love, hope, faith, and so on). Also, God’s existence or non-existence can’t be touched by logic, because the definition of God is someone who “exists” both inside and outside of the known universe. There are reasonable things, unreasonable things, but God is beyond the reach of reason. Reason can point to God (because it is a gift from God), but faith is an assurance that goes beyond reason.
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” hey brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him.
This group of Herodians and Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus into breaking Roman law. To teach others to refuse paying imperial taxes would could be punished as disloyalty or even treason. None of these religious leaders could have avoided paying their taxes without being punished. On the other hand it was a sore subject because Caesar was their enemy and a false god. Since the days of Caesar Augustus, the royal family had claimed to be” descendants of the Roman gods” to assure loyalty and increase their wealth. For a conscientious Jew to give money to Caesar was both an insult and a sin.
Expecting Jesus to say “It’s a sin to pay your taxes,” the Herodions would have gone to the nearest Roman soldier and sworn out a complaint to have Jesus arrested. Their clever logical trick was not that clever: They posed a question as a “yes” or “no” question, but Jesus should that there were more than two possible answers.
Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “You are completely wrong! You don’t know what the Scriptures teach and you don’t know anything about God. When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
The Sadducees tell a convoluted story based on a false premise. They are mocking the thought of eternal life by imagining a ridiculous scenario. They are basically saying, “if we can mock it, it can’t be true.” But Jesus simply tells them that they are wrong and poorly versed in Scripture. He is not distracted by their little story, but briefly points out that marriage is “until death makes us part.”
Jesus is the resounding winner in these two encounters but is managing to stoke the fires of their hatred for him. Jesus has outsmarted the Pharisees and Herodions, and he has insulted the Sadducees. He has sidestepped a direct confrontation with the Romans, but he is challenging the different religious/political groups to confront him. To put it very simply, many different factions want Jesus dead as soon as possible.
To the disciples, Jesus must seem like a hero for all of these confrontations. He is not standing up to the Romans yet, but he is defeating some of the groups that have bullied them all for years.
Jesus is impressive in his debates with others, but we live in an era where are continually overwhelmed with unsound reasoning, outright lies, and wishful thinking. Most politicians are very careful to remain vague. On the other hand, people who are invariably truthful don’t get elected because they don’t sound optimistic enough. As far as logic and reason goes, the world is a mess. Thankfully, engineers and scientists and some teachers still have a firm grip of reality.
A Question to Ponder: Jesus is seen as the originator of “passive resistance” (protesting without violence). How do think the crowds react to his approach when they had been hoping for a messiah who would lead an armed rebellion?