Matt. 22:15-22:33 – Dealing with Difficult Questions
After the series of condemning parables given to them by Jesus, the Pharisees have lined up their best shot at trapping with his own teaching. Would that they were asking a genuine question, that this were an inquiry into the further wisdom of God, instead of a political trap. But the question itself does seem to be a reasonable question for someone trying to be a faithful Jew in a subjugated territory. Is there a conflict between being a good Jew and paying ones taxes to Caesar? Granted, it’s not an easy thing for this 21st Century US citizen to really understand what it means to be conquered people subject to the laws and rules of a foreign power. My thinking is that there were probably a whole school of great thinkers who had been pondering questions like this for years and years and always seemed to come up with the Zeolots’ point of view (don’t pay) or the Herodians point of view (be a good citizen and pay). Jesus cuts much deeper and finds an answer that none had probably seen before.
I think that there’s something here about dealing with difficult questions and entrapment. In an earlier verse the Pharisees mean to trap Jesus by demanding to know by whose authority he goes about baptizing and making disciples (Matt. 21:23-27), in this case he chooses to not answer their question until they can answer his question about what they really think about John the Baptist (something he knew that they would not openly declare out of fear of offending the people). In the case of the question about paying taxes he chooses to answer them, even though he knows it’s meant to be a trap. That he would find the answer in the coin used to pay the tax is absolutely amazing. It’s some what literal but really takes the air out of the objections one might make. There’s no trick here, it comes down to getting past all the accumulated B.S. and really looking at things they way they are. And in this case, there’s no offense at paying ones taxes (or tribute to Caesar, as the case may be).
In the case of the Sadducees question about the woman and the seven brothers, Jesus’ answer rests on a form of the words “to be.” Jesus condemns them because their error is based on the ignorance of God’s Word, in this case they seem to have rejected the concept of the resurrection of the dead because they weren’t able to figure out how things like the woman and the seven brothers would “play out.” Again, the error is in having a limited level of thinking. But cutting to the heart of the issue, Jesus rests his argument in the word “is” as in when God tells Moses that he IS the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. These patriarchs, being long dead, should have been referred to in the past tense “was” instead of “is.” Again, I can imagine whole schools of thinking which had been grinding over this problem for years, only to be answered by a form of the verb “to be.”
I’m encouraged, in that I often do not see that clear, concise answer to difficult questions. There have been times when I’ve listened to the wisdom of my professors when they’ve said that there are reasons why they call these problems “Difficult” or “Great Problems.” And I have been content, for the most part, to live somewhere between the problem and the solution. I am reminded in these verses that these are great problems for men, but not for God. I shall endeavor, not to look harder or dig deeper with my own intellect, but to quiet myself enough to possibly hear the greater and deeper wisdom of God, where these “Great Problems” can be answered with the flip of a coin or a form of the word “to be.” JBB 12/18/2005