Matthew 22:15-21
(1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b)
Why Test Me

by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino.
Reprinted with the permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace.  We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen.  For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

"Have you stopped robbing banks yet?"  No one likes a trick question, especially when it's designed to trap you into one of two false choices.  "Gotcha" questions seem to make up much of our modern discourse, and thus people are naturally on their guard.  The lack of space for nuance, the lack of patient listening to understand, and the evident insincerity (if not malice) in the air makes discussion and discovery of the truth increasingly difficult as a result.  In our Gospel today, (Mt 22:15-21), we are shown that there is nothing new under the  sun. Jesus too faced insincerity and gotcha questions. Yet, he also provides us a way out and a way forward. 

Our scene starts curiously enough: he Pharisees and Herodians normally were political and spiritual enemies. Yet, they still manage to team up against Jesus here, no doubt sensing that Our Lord is the real deal who exposes their hypocrisy and erodes the foundations of their wealth and false claims to authority. Then as now, truth has a way of making strange bedfellows among its enemies.

Threatened by the truth, they attack with the same weapons used by so many people motivated by ideology and agenda today: insincere kindness and loaded questions.  For example, all their compliments happen to be true statements, but the speakers don't believe them.  In a flash, we see how something ordinarily good, such as kindness, can be corrupted to mask a deeper malice.  Kindness, without the guidance of the truth and when not directed toward the good, becomes insincere and often acts as a sort of chloroform for the mind and heart.  It enables mischief and worse.  Anyone who has been "killed by kindness" and had their legitimate concerns dismissed with a cheerful smile can attest to this.  Be kind, yes.  But more importantly, Our Lord reminds us to be sincere, loving and true.

Then comes the loaded question: "Is it lawful to pay the tax to Caesar?"  If Jesu says no, then they get to report him to the Romans as a tax-dodger and rebel.  If he says yes, then they get to write him off as a Roman shill and a false Jew.  One gets the image of Snidely Whiplash twirling his mustache, waiting for Jesus to take the bait.

Jesus, of course, does no such thing.  He refuses to engage the false dichotomy or be boxed in.  Rather, he models a way forward for us.  He pauses, confronts the reality before him directly and asks questions to clarify.

So often, we can feel trapped by a question.  Jesus shows that it's ok to stop and say so.  "Why do you test me?" That's precisely what they're doing.  Jesus says so directly.  Rather than answer an unfair question, we can do the same. For instance: "I don't think you're framing that question in a fair way."

The Jesus asks questions and shifts the weight back to his accusers.  There's a famous joke: Someone once asked a rabbi: "Why do rabbis always answer a question with another question?"  To which the rabb8i responds: "Why wouldn't a rabbi answer a question with another question?"

There's real power in asking good questions to get to the truth.  In this case, Jesus' question sends his accusers diving into their own pockets, in the process showing the crowd who really was in Caesar's pocket. Jesus doesn't have the coin with the image of the false God (Caesar) on him.  The others do.  The questions peel back the facade and let the truth shine through.

Frequently, we remember today that though Caesar's image is on the coin, God's image is on us.  That's a perennially valid point.  We belong to God.  But it also might be worth asking what "coinage" is in our pocket for our daily conversations.  Imagine our words and conversations as coins.  Whose image do they bear?  To whom do they belong? The image of the false God - of insincerity and manipulation to gain power and control?  The image of the false God - of insincerity and manipulation to gain power and control?  Or does the coinage of our words and deeds bear the image of Christ and truth tooted in goodness and love?