By: Jason Songe
Have you ever asked a question with insidious cunning, knowing the answer? Only wanting to hear the respondent admit the crime? Wrath burns hot on your tongue and envy pumps through your heart. Your eyebrows furrow and your nostrils flare. You stand there, rigid, paralyzed by enmity.
How does this work out, when you abandon God and reason?
Not so great, right? It normally doesn’t go the way you planned.
Well, imagine the Man you’re trying to trick is someone who can read your thoughts(Mat 9:4) and is God. It may go even worse, as it does for the Pharisees in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. Click here for it.
The devious plan of the Pharisees contained three aspects.
First, they arranged to entrap Jesus among a crowd of Jews, hoping His embarrassment would be as large.
The Pharisees put the question of tribute to Jesus with the “design that whatever way He might answer, He should incur blame,” according to Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, a Flemish Jesuit and biblical commentator who lived in the 16th and 17th century.
“If Christ asserted that tribute ought to be given to Caesar, He would incur the wrath of the Jewish populace, many of whom believed that it was unlawful to acknowledge Caesar as their lord and pay him tribute,” Fr. Lapide said.
Second, accompanying the Pharisees were another Jewish sect, the Herodians, who favored Caesar and the tribute to him. In this way a answer by Jesus against Caesar would also be ensured of a large reaction.
“If he said it shouldn’t be paid, he’d be arrested and executed for sedition,” Fr. Lapide said.
Third, they showered him with compliments and offered fake respect by calling him “rabbi.”
In commentary on this incident, St. John Chrysostom says, “By means of flattery they hoped to urge him on to boldness, that he might say something against the existing institutions.”
It’s so heartbreaking. The Pharisees devoted their lives to preserving the Old Testament for future dissemination. But, they did not live the message of the writings they protected. Rather, they were blinded by their own envy and lust for power. They did not see their savior standing right in front of them. St. John Chrysostom says it better than me:
“For indeed the things that had been said cried aloud in actual fulfillment. I mean, that publicans and harlots believed, and prophets and righteous men were slain, and from these things they ought not to have gainsaid touching their own destruction, but even to believe and be sobered. But nevertheless not even so do their wicked acts cease, but travail and proceed further.”
About the Author: Jason Songe
Jason is a seminarian in First Pre-Theology.
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