Benedictine University and’s Mark Kurowski reflects on how we try to fool God like the Pharisees and Herodians tried to fool Jesus in his day.  Can we really trust God?  Listen to this podcast of his reflection for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Please read Matthew 22:15-22.

 For Benedictine University and, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 10/16/2011The 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 22:15-22.
The Devil almost never greets you with a sneer.  He almost always greets you with a smile.  I was pleased to ride with a detective one time.  It was interesting to have heard and to have seen what he did.  At the time, he was telling me about a case he once had where a teenager and his best friend were selling drugs together because they were star-crossed at the promise of big money and the high of being on drugs.  When one of the teenagers wanted out, the pusher they were selling for hired his best friend to kill him.  That is how the detective got to investigate the teenager’s death.  The devil is smiling.
Think about it.  The promise and glitz of quick money in gambling belies the fortune that you have to lose over the months trying to get the big one.  The promise of a person who is outside of your relationship belies the havoc that is reaped when we are unfaithful to our spouses.  The promise of the deal that is too good to be true is belied by the fact that it is too good to be true.
The smile is what is promised by the person who approaches us.  The evil is in what they want us to do in response to it.  That is how we can tell the difference.  The promise is wonderful only if we are not asked to do something we know is wrong to get it.
When Jesus is faced with the Pharisees and Herodians, he is faced with two groups that are on opposite sides of the paying taxes to Caesar issue.  The Pharisees do not want a tax paid to Caesar because the money has the proclamation that Caesar is a god.  In their eyes, to pay a tax to Caesar is to honor him as a competing god to the Lord.  The Herodians are followers of Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee.  They support the state and feel that Jews ought to pay the taxes just like everyone else.
So, when they come to Jesus, they do not really want to find truth.  What they want to find is a way for one party or the other to get honked off at Jesus enough to kill him.  This is what is presented in their “nice-nice” conversation.
They come to Jesus and say, (smile) “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men.”  Smile.
They say, “Tell us, then, what you think.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Aha! There it is! The evil intent! It is bare faced to all those who can see right through the false bravado.  Those who complement in sincerity do not expect you to come down on their side of any argument.  Those who are not sincere set up false constructs to get you to agree with them.  This, Jesus knows.
These people are hypocrites because they do not seek the truth, but verification of their own opinion and prejudices.  Those who come to God for the truth in sincerity are ready to hear and act.  Those who come to God in insincerity are only ready to hear and do what they want.  On top of wanting it their own way, the insincere want God to bless their faulty opinions.
This passage shows us that Jesus is wise enough to see the difference.  I don’t know about you, but I am glad that we have a Lord who is no fool.  I am glad that we have a Lord that can see right through human attempts to bamboozle him with praise while we do whatever we want.  I am glad—I think.
The old time Comedian Bill Cosby’s account of Noah and the Flood takes us on a mythical conversation between God and Noah and Noah and his neighbor, as he builds the ark.  There is a point in Cosby’s account which is hilarious.  Cosby relates that Noah has been working really hard to get two of every animal.  Noah is in a hurry.  He doesn’t want God to call on him again and ask him to do something else.  Wouldn’t you know it, God calls on Noah again?
He says, “Noah, you’ve got to take one of those hippos back, you’ve got two males and you need a female.  In tired exasperation, Noah says to God, “I’m not going to take one of those hippos back.  You change one of them.”  Cosby has God say, “You know I don’t work like that.”  Usually we try to fool God, like the Pharisees and Herodians are trying to fool God in this passage, but God is no fool.
Or, have you ever wondered about the part of Scripture that says, “If two of you ask anything in my name, I will give it to you?” There is this little temptation in me that wants to find another person and pray, “Lord, send us lots and lots of money.”  I want to turn to the other person and say, “Right?” Have them say, “Right.” Then in unison say (impishly), “In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
We know that this is not the way that God works.  To live in “his name” means that whatever we ask according to his plan, he will do it.
The Lord did not put us on this earth to try to pull a fast one on him.  The Lord did not create us so that we could hustle him.  The Lord created us out of his love and he is no fool.  For those who love him and want to follow his ways there is a comfort in knowing that the being to whom we trust our salvation is not a fool.
No matter how much we try to get God to do things our way, we can trust him that his way is better.  Jesus shows us that he is not going to participate in the evil intent of the Pharisees.  This means that his ways are not filled with evil, but with good.  We ought to be glad that we follow one who isn’t fooled into doing what evil in this world wants.
We were talking in the office just before I wrote this reflection about how the proliferation of guns and violence in the Northwest Region of Indiana causes the people to hunker down in their homes and neighborhoods.  This seems like the best answer.  But it isn’t.  Evil smiles and says, “Save yourself by locking everything up and hiding inside.” That just causes all of us to be on our own in our own homes.  When we are alone, that is when we are the most vulnerable to evil and violence.  It is when we deny the tendency to claim safety for just ourselves that we band together with all people in a City and are safe again.
I would love to draw a political cartoon that has two people standing in their front windows looking across the street at each other with thought bubbles rising from both of their heads that lead to one big bubble having the thinking the same thing, “I hope they won’t hurt me.” This is the false choice of evil.  It promises safety, but leaves us vulnerable.
Jesus, on the other hand, he comes and says, “Love one another.” Sure, we will be taken advantage of and will leave ourselves open to becoming hurt, but that is a small price to pay when we see the power of love in our lives.  Jesus is no fool.  We can follow his ways and it will lead to something more wonderful than we could ever hope. 
So, when you listen to this, I want you to know that you cannot fool God.  Thank God for that! He is the Lord and he is worth following.  Amen?  Amen.
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