There is so much going on in Matthew 22:15-22! Here’s the deal; the Pharisees decide to trap Jesus. What I find interesting is how they decide to do it. They decide to trap Him in His words. It’s intriguing on a couple of levels. One, they don’t seem to think they can get Him to mess up in His actions. They don’t send a prostitute after Him. They don’t try to trap Him in a compromising position at a party. It’s His words they go after. The other interesting part of this shows their value on what someone says. They don’t care what He actually believes. They just want to find a way to twist what He says to convince people He’s evil. They’ve quit listening and looking. They just want to set Him up.
So, they send some of their disciples and some Herodians to Jesus. The Pharisees are the ones who are strict about their religious rules. They hold a hard line on what people can and can’t do, and are very legalistic. The Herodians are the opposite. They are Jews who have accepted that the Herod’s are their rulers, and compromise wherever they need to in order to survive. They blend all sorts of Roman worship into their faith, and are Jews in name only. With these two working together, it shows you just how much they hated Jesus. He is a threat to all of them in one way or another.
So, the two teams go to Jesus and ask a question about Herod and the government. No matter which way He answers, one of the groups will be offended. If He answers for the Jewish faith, the Herodians will report Him to the government as a trouble maker. If He answers in favor of Herod, the Pharisees will use His words to prove He is a compromiser and not a true religious teacher. He’s in big trouble here. That’s why they tell Him “You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are”. It’s a set up. They are basically saying, “We’ve got you, bro! You act like you don’t worry what others think, but get out of this one!” You can just hear the jealousy and insecurities come out of them in this whole scene.
Jesus, though, is the Hero. He won’t be suckered. He turns the tables on them. His answer with the coin basically puts the decision back on both groups, and makes both of them look bad. In essence, He’s telling them “Pharisee’s, why are you so worried about money? If you’re so spiritual, let Caesar have his little money. Trust God! Herodians, why are you playing like you’re religious? God has plans for you, trust Him!”
They’re stuck. They lose. So they leave.
Nice story, but why does God tell it to us? So that He can show off and prove how manly Jesus is? So that we read it and know better than to mess with Jesus? Or is there a deeper point here for us?
I think there are several. One, be careful of letting fear, jealousy, and bitterness drive your life. When we get in a bad spot due to fear, we make bad decisions that leave us exposed for who we are. We can hide it for a while, but it will always come up to bite us. Second, are we in a spot where we are more worried about what religious words a person uses than how they live their lives? Who cares if someone says things the way we do or not? Are they living a life that points others to God? When we get consumed with our way of worshipping, our way of teaching, our way of doing church, then we try to trap people with their words. You can see how well it’s worked out before. The outcome will be the same for us today. And finally, what about Jesus in this story? Is this the Jesus you know, One who can easily defend Himself at any time in any situation? You definitely get the idea that this trap did not worry Him at all. This is the same Jesus who promises to protect you and defend you. Do you trust Him to do His job? Do you believe in His strength? Or do you worship a weenie version of Him?
Like I said, there is just SO much going on in these few verses. I love it!