Entangled Web Weaved, When Creeps Try to Trap Us
#EntangledWebWeaved is the podcast for October 22, 2017. When people are asking you a question just to make you look bad and ruin your day, event, life, what should you do? Take a cue from Jesus Christ, you two were made for each other. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #Matthew 22 #Caesar #Taxes #GivetoCaesar #Pharisees #Herodians #EnemyofMyEnemy #SouthernLying #SanctionedLying
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For The Church of Saint Raphael the Archangel, Munster, IN and My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 10/22/2017 The 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 22:15-22. [This is our second annual “Invest in the Spiritual Life Month,” our annual fundraiser. The work of My Spiritual Advisor cannot happen without your support. We serve over 30,000 people per year through our various ministries and presence. Our goal is to raise $7,000. Please consider making a gift by clicking the donate button today.]
A friend of mine and I were having lunch and I asked him how he was doing. He said he was exhausted because he had just gone back from Louisiana. I asked if it was the travel that made him tired. He said, no, it was the family that made him tired. He knew from a very young age, he said, that he had to leave the South. He didn’t fit. They practiced “sanctioned lying,” he said. I asked, “What is ‘sanctioned lying?’”
“Sanctioned lying is the practice of saying something you do not believe or think because it is the socially expected thing to do.” He went on to say that sanctioned lying was when you told someone that their dress made them look thinner, their selection of tie that morning was striking when what you meant was that it looked galling. I told him, when I lived in the South, I got around that by using vagueries like, “Miss Edna, that is SOME hat!” She would always say, “Why thank you, pastor.” Little did she know that I hated that hat and thought that it was really SOME hat.
Yet, what he really hated was when people would use sanctioned lying to trap you into something that you didn’t want to do or make you feel bad. This includes, guilt to do something for a family member who doesn’t deserve it or for whom you should not be doing such a thing. He used the example of being asked to pick up beer for a party when you know the amount of beer you are going to purchase won’t last until the party because of ol’ uncle Willie.
Even worse, said my friend, is when people approach you with a smile and smooth voice, ask you a series of questions and then trap you in your answers. This he said is the worst of sanctioned lying. Inevitably, he said, they then will put words and motivations in your mouth so that they can persecute you. To that, thinking of this very passage, I said, “Jim, that is not just in the South. That is everywhere for all times. Look at Jesus, it is how they tried to trap him and crucify him.”
In our Gospel today, we have the Pharisees, a lay movement of holy people that rose up because the Chief Priest was appointed by the Roman Authorities and Jews did not want to be occupied in their territory. They objected to the paying of taxes for several reasons. They didn’t like be subject to a foreigners tax, similar to the colonists in America in the late 1700s. They were VERY popular as “true leaders of Judaism” since the High Priest could not be trusted due to his allegiance to Rome.
The coins of the Roman Empire were very problematic to the Pharisees because the coins declared Caesar was god. It was why there were money changers in the Temple: to exchange the blasphemous money for the Temple money that let God be God.
The Herodians, on the other hand, were followers of Herod. Now, they considered themselves Jews. Herod, believe it or not, considered himself and his whole family as Jewish. These folks believed that the way to liberation was through allegiance to the Romans. They had no problems with paying taxes to Caesar with Caesar’s money.
The two groups could not be farther from one another in perspective and observance of Judaism, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Therefore, Jesus was a threat to them both; The Pharisees because he was popular and led people to repentance and a deeper devotion and the Herodians because they thought he was going to be a political leader. In other words, power.
So, the myth of the world Jesus lived in being all sunshine and roses is once again blown to smitherines here in this story from the Gospel of Matthew. The stakes were always high. For us, we may lose family relationships when we begin to take our faith seriously. We may lose our jobs, which is a legitimate cause for panic in itself. For Jesus, they were coming to kill him. So, at least on one score, we know we can pray to someone who knows what it is like in a troubled time, a troubled world. Jesus knows.
The Greek text says that they came to “entangle him with his logic.” This whole thing is a setup. Have you ever walked into a setup? Anymore, whenever Human Resources calls you down, if you are the employee, it just feels like a set up. When you walk into your house at the appointed time and the whole family is there “to talk to you”. It feels like a set up. When people who hate you come to you and just want to “ask you a few questions”, there is something sketchy going down. (For those older than 30, we would say “something shady going down.”)
The purpose of the question is to get Jesus to come down on the side of the Pharisees who are repulsed by the coins and the taxes, or on the side of the Herodians who support Herod under Rome, for whom the coins and taxes are no issue. Either way, if Jesus follows one side, he loses popular support and legitimacy as a religious leader. If he follows the other side, he goes against the power of Rome. Either way, the Pharisees and Herodians can finally agree on one thing: get rid of Jesus once and for all so they can go back to hating each other. Yes, we must have our priorities.
It should be noted that when Jesus asks for a coin, it means he doesn’t have one on his person. He has to get the coin from his entanglers. It means that the Pharisees are closer to the idolatrous coins than Christ. It should also be noted that his comment on what should be given to Caesar, although it states the worthlessness of Caesar’s rule, basically shows that as Jews, the Herodians belong to Caesar. So, the blasephemous coins are just like the Herodians themselves-blasphemous.
In one brief comment, Jesus cuts down both opponents with an incisive observation: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” or nothing; and “give to God what is God’s,” or our very lives, even unto death. Either way the hypocrisy of those who are endowed to Caesar and those who have false devotion to God is exposed.
What we should be concerned about here is that we do not follow God for the same reasons as the Pharisees and Herodians. We, as Christians, should not use the same tools that were used to entrap our Savior. We ought to be gentle, kind, loving, and straight forward. We should be open to the ‘other’ from the position of being radically faithful to Jesus. We are seeking to know if the ‘other’ is of the Spirit. If they are, we embrace them. If they are not, we love them through the differences.
The whole scenario with Jesus from Matthew, with its entangled web weaved, is exhausting. It loses sight that life is to be lived with God in control, not us. We are to look for the ways that God is renewing us, instead of shutting down things that threaten our popularity or our earthly power. Lying, trickery, entrapment, and unkindness, sanctioned or unsanctioned, are not from God. They are from the Devil. Following God does have rules that give us structure, but the rules never lead us to degrade another human being. “I believe you are wrong,” is a far cry from “I believe you have no worth and should die.”
As well, we should be on the look out for these kinds of entrapments, because they still exist today. Jesus gives us an example of how to handle them. We should never perpetrate these kinds of shenanigans as Christians and we should always be aware that others still do. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2017.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian