"Then the Pharisees went off and began to plot how they might trap Jesus in speech." — Matthew 22:15
The disciples of the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking Him the question: "Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor or not?" (Mt 22:17) If Jesus would answer: "Pay taxes to Rome," He would lose His popularity with the masses of simple people who comprised the great majority of His followers. These simple folk were Jews who naturally opposed their conquerors and oppressors, the Romans. The Pharisees encouraged Jesus to disappoint His followers by reminding Him that He didn't court anyone's favor or act out of human respect (Mt 22:16). But Jesus did not answer: "Pay taxes to Rome." On the other hand, if Jesus answered: "Don't pay taxes to Rome," He would keep His popularity with the masses but get in trouble with Rome. Jesus' opposition to Roman taxation would then be dutifully reported to Roman officials by the Herodian sympathizers present for the occasion (see Mt 22:16). But Jesus did not answer: "Don't pay your taxes."
What did Jesus do? Did He evade the question? No. Instead, He became the Questioner rather than the questioned. Through His questions (Mt 22:18-20), He may have convicted the Pharisees and their disciples of their sinful compromise with the oppressive Roman government. To merely hold a Roman coin was a convicting experience for an orthodox Jew who considered the graven image on a coin to be idol worship. To simply say the name "Caesar" left a bad taste in the mouth of a Jew. Jesus' would-be trappers may have realized they were trapped. "Taken aback" by Jesus' reply, "they went off and left Him" (Mt 22:22).
Prayer: Father, on this World Mission Sunday, take me captive to do Your will so that I will escape the devil's trap (2 Tm 2:26).
Promise: "Our preaching of the gospel proved not a mere matter of words for you but one of power." —1 Thes 1:5
Praise: Praise You, Jesus, risen and glorified. You have conquered sin and death.
Nihil obstat: Reverend Ralph J. Lawrence, April 2, 1996
Imprimatur: †Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, April 3, 1996
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