Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Sheriffs And The Preachers (Or: The Herodians and the Disciples of the Pharisees)

10/19/2014, Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, 
First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, Chicago 

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. -Matthew 22:15-22, NRSV

This morning, we find ourselves in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. 

In the story, in the 22nd Chapter, in Matthew’s Gospel,

it’s Holy Week—the week that Jesus would be betrayed and crucified,

Jesus’ final days with his disciples. 

Here in the 22nd chapter, Jesus is at the temple, 

presumably with his disciples, 

he’s been teaching and healing, 
and doing the kinds of things that Jesus does.

And suddenly, we learn, in the story, that

the Pharisees send their disciples, 

with the Herodians, 

to “trap” Jesus. 

the Pharisees send their disciples with the Herodians to “trap” Jesus. 


Now, historically, 

it’s clear 

that the Herodians and the Pharisees did not attend each other’s fundraisers or ice cream socials. 

In fact, they were generally opponents of one another,
one might even say “enemies,”
bearers of conflicting ideologies

and values 

and institutions. 

They didn’t let their kids play together. 

The Pharisees, on the one hand, were the closest cousins to a rabbi like Jesus. They were not “official” leaders sent from the temple. Rather, like Jesus, they were leaders in a movement, a renewal of the Jewish faith. 

Though they claimed that the Temple was God’s Dwelling Place, and, like Jesus, were also there for the Holy Days of the Jewish faith, 

they, too, were disillusioned by the corruption and the greed that the temple leaders often gave-into. 

They, like the early Christians who later adopted their theology, 

emphasized more than sacrificing of doves or buildings of stone alone, as tools for faithfulness. 

In addition, they emphasized, the body itself as God’s Dwelling Place.

In doing that, they gave the individual practitioner of the faith the power to purify her or his own temple—even if they believed that the temple in Jerusalem had become impure, or corrupt, or “sold out.” 

Jesus and the Pharisees were different. But they were also quite alike. 

The Herodians, on the other hand, were the Blue-Dog Caesar Party. To the end, they were supporters of the legacy, the dynasty, the machine, started by Herod the Great. 

In Jesus’ day, their “guy” was Herod Antipas, 
whose main seat of power 

was in Galilee. 

Herod remained in power through funds given to him by Rome. 

Funds which included money gathered from the “head tax” that was charged to each citizen, (the tax in question when this group comes to entrap Jesus). 

Of course, Herod’s people were pro-Roman taxes. 

It’s good for their leaders and their “party” to get paid. 


The Herodians and the Pharisees did not attend each other’s fundraisers or ice cream socials. 

They were generally opponents, bearers of conflicting ideologies and values and institutions.

But Nothing brings opponents together like a common enemy. 

And Jesus, since he had arrived at the temple,

had been a bit more “radical,” than was comfortable

or generally acceptable.

And Jesus, since he had arrived at the temple, had succeed in ticking off nearly every faction of the people he encountered. 

That is, every faction and every group, 

except the 

crippled, and the poor, and the beggars, and the lame. 


Just one chapter prior to today’s reading, in the 22nd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, 

It was Palm Sunday. 

Jesus marched in to town on a donkey. 

People shouted Hosanna!

“He went into the temple, drove out everyone who was buying or selling there, 
Overturned the tables of the money changers, 
and the benches of those selling doves, 
and exclaimed to them all:
‘It is written My House will be called a House of Prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’”

And… Then… 

“the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.” 

But, the story goes, 

“when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw him doing all these things, 
and the the children shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’
[that is, the kind of thing that you shout to a KING], 

They grew ‘indignant.’”

They were mad, threatened, angered, by Jesus. 

But Jesus keeps coming back to the temple to teach. 

Since that time, Jesus offered a few good zingers.

Here are three: 

He says to his people, mainly to the chief priests and the elders, at this time…

“I tell you the truth. The tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you (21:31b),”

He says, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and be given to a people who will produce fruit (21:43).”

and, most recently, he says,

“those I invited to the Banquet don’t deserve to come, [so I’ll send my servants to the street corners, to invite to the banquet, whomever [the good and the bad!]…many are called but few are chosen… (22:8-10, 14)”


Jesus has been attacking the religious leadership since he has arrived in Jerusalem. 

He has kicked out the moneychangers.

He’s both implied and stated directly that the temple’s corruption more or less now disqualifies them from the gifts that they had been initially trusted with to administer to the people. 

And now the Pharisees, along with the Herodians are trying to “trap” him—

specifically, trying to “entrap him in what he says.” 

First they butter him up, 

They give him a prize, an award!

Jesus you are so sincere, and sooooooo honest! 

You don’t mince words, you tell it how it is, and you don’t care if it’s hard for people to hear, Jesus! You just say it

“You don’t care about anyone’s position,” they tell him, 

(while they’ve shown up in their uniforms, 
and fanciest religious attire), 

“You teach the way of God in Truth!”…

Flattery at its finest…

“So… Jesus, you great guy, you wonderful Rabbi,”

they finally ask, casually,

“What do you think?! Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar—to the emperor—or not?” 

And Jesus responds: 


“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” 

That’s Jesus actual response to the question, right? Or at least his primary response. 

The first thing he says when asked about the tax to Caesar is simple:

“Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” 

Remember “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for a stage actor who wore a mask.

“Why do you come to me two-faced? Wearing masks? Trying to test me? to trick me? To trap me?”

I wonder how seriously we can take the rest of Jesus response, as he knows that he is being attacked and “entrapped,” and “framed” in the asking.

I wonder how seriously we should take the rest of his words…

Is he just trying to get rid of the Herodians and Pharisees, 
so simply saying something neutral that they would not know how to take? 

Is he answering honestly? 

Is he truing to make them look bad?


Well, Jesus goes on: 

“Show me the coin used for the tax.” 

They brought him a Roman coin. 

“Whose head and title is this?” he asks.

“Ummm… It’s Caesars. 



Did you catch that? 

This is pretty amazing. 

Here, in Chapter 22 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus cleansed the temple yesterday 

by kicking out all of the money changers!!!

Now, the money changers were at the temple in the first place 

to change Roman coins into temple coins 

because Roman coins had a picture of caesar on them! 

And it was idolatrous to have any graven image in the temple. 

More than that, the inscription on the coin was not 

“in God we trust,” 

rather, it was 

“Tiberius Caesar, august son of the Divine Augustus, high priest.” 

That is: Caesar, Son of God, high priest. 

In the temple that Jesus had just “cleansed” the night before, 

the Pharisees, who claim loyalty to the Living God of Israel,  


the Herodians, who claim allegiance to Herod and to Rome, and to Caesar, the son of the gods, 

Sell out to one another, 

And join together to

try to entrap Jesus, the Son of the God, in what he says. 

To trick him. To frame him. 

To create headlines that scream

“Jesus, exposed! The guy who would cleanse the temple is, himself, quite dirty…” 

Perhaps that’s what they had hoped, 

but, instead, Jesus asks them to expose their own intentions. 

To take off their masks. 

Jesus has no money, and certainly, not the Roman coin in the temple. 

So he asks for a Roman coin, 



they all reach for their pockets, 

I imagine, the Pharisees and the Herodians, alike. 

Whose image is this, in the Holy Temple, 

on your coin?

And whose slogan? 

And whose law? 

They read it. 

And as they read it, 

“Tiberius Caesar, august son of the Divine Augustus, high priest.” 

That is: Caesar, Son of god, high priest. 

They exposed, in the temple, their allegiance to Caesar, 

the one they called the son of gods.

So, Jesus, as he had done since he arrived in Jerusalem,

did what Jesus does. He taught, and healed, 

and he called them again:

Take off your mask, 

share your wealth, 

don’t abuse your power, and don’t rip people off.

Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, strength, and 
mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

This is the whole law and the prophets (22:34-40). 

Love your neighbor. Love God. 

Feed the hungry. Care for the sick. 

Lift up the lowly and the bowed down. 

In so doing, you will give to God the things that are God’s.

And they were amazed. 

And they went away. 

Source of Image:

Hymn of the Day:

No comments:

Post a Comment