The gospel for this Sunday offers several points of reflection and I wanted to take some time to consider each point thoughtfully so I am going to divide the reflection into separate posts. The gospel is the encounter between Jesus and the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians who have plotted to trip Jesus up in asking about whether it is lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar. (Mt. 22:15-22;)
The plotters start out by addressing Jesus as “Teacher” and acclaiming his attributes of being a “truthful man” and one that teaches “the way of God in accordance with the truth.” If one truly believed these things about a person, that he is a teacher who is truthful and teaches the way of God, then one should be seeking to become a disciple of that teacher of the truth. Instead Jesus recognizes the “malice” in their hearts and that they are seeking to “test” him by twisting the truth. Rather than being true pilgrims in search of the truth who find their heart’s desire in a teacher of the truth and the way of God and thus are called to discipleship, they are lost in a false search that questions the truth and puts Truth itself to the test.
Our calling as Christians is to be true disciples of the Lord. Jesus teaches us a way of life that will lead us to the house of the Father and the kingdom of heaven. Jesus sees into the hearts of those he encounters and we pray that when he looks into our hearts that he sees a “listening” heart, a heart that is open and receptive to the truth that Jesus has to share. A listening heart is a heart of obedience. When we hear the truth and receive it into our hearts we then must conform our lives to bear witness to that truth that now lives in our hearts. Our place is not to question the truth but to bear witness to the truth with our lives.
The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians have a heart that is filled with malice. They are seeking to put Jesus to the test. This places them in the company with Satan who puts Jesus to the test in the desert. The “test” is essentially the same argument. The relationship of the temporal with the eternal. Can the two realms be reconciled. The “eternal truths” are beautiful and fine to contemplate but the “real world” needs real solutions, real bread, real coins. How can we rest in the “good news” of God’s merciful love, goodness, beauty and glory when we are struggling to put bread on the table? We still hear this argument floated a lot in our world today. Can we truly live by the Word of God and draw our life from the Spirit?
We need the heart of a disciple, a listening heart, that is ready to receive the truth that is revealed in the Word of God and then to live that truth. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18: 37) The cynical and skeptical heart that is constantly putting the teaching of Jesus to the test will lead us to the judgement seat of Pilate who, with a closed heart, dismisses the Word of God with, “What is truth?” (John 18,38) Jesus teaches us the way of God and helps us to live beautiful lives of grace and truth. As the Father himself commands, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Mt. 17,5)
What is the relationship of the temporal with the eternal? Jesus gets real and demands, “show me the money…” We’ll see later where he takes this…