Jesus Won’t be Trapped
All through the New Testament, people try to trap Jesus. They want to trap him because they want to control him - they want to make him safe, tame, and usable. We see this in Matthew 22, as the Herodians and the Pharisees ask Jesus a duplicitous question:
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him [Jesus] in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
We often focus on Jesus’ response to this question (we’ll look at that response in tomorrow’s devotional), but it’s worth focusing on the question itself, and specifically on the motivation behind it.
The Pharisees and the Herodians are trying to gain control by asking Jesus what his opinion is on a controversial topic. You see, no one can argue with Jesus’ miracles. No one can’t debate his love, or his grace, or his peace. But if the Pharisees and the Herodians can get Jesus to reduce his person and work to a concept, to a proposition, to a position on a hotly contested issue, they can control him. They can trap him.
You and I often try to do the same thing. We try to reduce Jesus, we try to systematize him, to categorize him, all with the same goal: to confine him. We may feel pious when we’re doing this, it almost seems as if we are centering our life around him, but the truth is, we’re just using him, we’re just trapping him. You see, discipleship isn’t just about mastering a set of principles, it’s about a relationship with a person. And relationships are gifts to be received, not just dogmas to be learned. Bishop Robert Barron puts it this way:
"Whatever God is, he is not to be confined in the net of concepts, ideas, or images; whatever he is must, in principle, be received as a gift... We experience the truth of God when we surrender our minds to him and give up our pathetic attempts to control him."
Control is the exact right word for what we try to do with Jesus, and what the Pharisees and Herodians are trying to do here. If they can confine Jesus by getting him on the record with this tax question, they can, then, consign him, either to death or irrelevance, and be done with him once and for all.
Here’s what the Pharisees and the Herodians knew: their power and Jesus’ presence were mutually exclusive. They had to choose: center their identity around this Messiah, forfeiting their control, or keep clinching onto their power, but try to get Jesus out of the picture.
It’s worth noting that they are right, and insofar as we think we can hold onto both power and Jesus, we are wrong. You see, some of us are trying to hold on to both Jesus and our control of our life. We’re willing to let Jesus control, say, our romantic life - who and how we date - but we aren’t ready to let him take over our checkbook.
Here’s what I promise you: that equilibrium won’t last. In two years, Jesus will either invade your finances, or your romantic life will be free of his presence. We can’t serve two masters. Jesus invites us to surrender our lives to him. We come to Jesus ready to interrogate him, but we leave having had our hearts searched by him. He is Lord, and he won’t be trapped.
Pastor for Faith Formation at All Saints Anglican Church in Downtown Dallas, TX.
Please join me in praying this collect from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all
things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord
of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth,
divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together
under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.