This Sunday’s readings are both a clear and powerful application of the last three weeks’ reflections. Let us focus by contrasting the overall message of

TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 22: 15 – 21] with some words from the NEW TESTAMENT READING [1 THESSALONIANS 1: 1 – 5b].

The Gospel opens with a clear indication that the Pharisees were not going to change the choice they had made. They could no longer endure ending up (publicly) with egg on their faces. Jesus had forced them into a corner. Instead of reflecting on the real possibilities available they now decided that the only solution was to ignore the message but do away with the messenger. However, they needed strong evidence on which to have him put away for good. You will notice, however, that they did not even have the courage to undertake their own ‘dirty tricks’. Instead they mandated others to trick the Lord into saying something that could legally be used to accuse him in court.

The Pharisees went and took counsel how to entangle Jesus in his talk. And they sent their disciples to him … .” Notice how from the start those who came founded their efforts on insincere flattery. There is no shame in them because they commence with something they do

NOT believe – that Jesus is “true … and teach the way of God truthfully.” If this was their true conviction how could they explain their consistent opposition to the Lord, and their marked reluctance to seriously consider his claims?

How do we explain our own hesitations in various little areas? What about our little compromises in order not to upset a few people?

This week’s Gospel extract is the first of four disputes between Jesus and the Jewish leaders who have now finally decided to reject him entirely. We need to recognise that these disputes are the direct result of the Pharisees having been outmanoeuvred by Jesus in the trilogy of parables which always ended in a direct question-challenge which they were forced to answer. However, each time, they failed to accept the truthful relevance to themselves and the then contemporary state of Jewish religion. The faith had become so camouflaged by religious law and customs that the leaders themselves were unable to distinguish the wood from the trees. The status and power of the leaders were threatened not only be the very

PERSON of Jesus but also by his clear and convincing teaching. So many of the ordinary people were hungry for God. The chief priests, scribes, leaders and pharisees were unable to find the food for this hunger. All they could do was to multiply and complicate the rules and regulations.

The Jewish teaching authority and establishments were now united against Jesus


“They sent their disciples to them, along with the Herodians … .”

In general, the Pharisees and “the Herodians” make strange bedfellows. Yet both groups want the ‘Jesus problem’ solved once and for all. “The Pharisees would have wanted him to say it was unlawful to pay the tax. The Herodians “would want an answer favouring taxation.” They have however “a common, malicious desire to discredit Jesus, whatever answer he gives. … The questioners are insincere.” But Jesus does not react to them – he responds to them. “Deftly he asks his questioners for a denarius, the Roman coin used to pay the poll tax. By this apparently simple action, Jesus says ‘I do not possess the coin used to pay the tribute; you, who seem so troubled about it, do carry and use the coin.’ And that willingness to use Caesar’s money in their business transactions is a tacit acceptance of Caesar’s imperial system and the healthy business climate he guarantees. If they are so ready to acknowledge Caesar’s sovereignty when it is to their advantage, then they should pay up when Caesar demands his tribute.” (here we recognise a vague resonance with the parable of the tenants in the vineyard?! They wanted the benefits but were unwilling to ‘pay the tribute’.) {all quotes in this paragraph are taken from MATTHEW:John R Meier: New Testament Message: Vol. 3: Veritas Publications}

There is a proverb which tells us that if we ‘sup with the devil we need a long spoon.’ In other words, dealings with dangerous people require that we should be careful they do not harm us. How often do we, when seeking some sort of justification for ourselves, lack honesty and discretion about the allies we choose or the quite pagan arguments we marshal to support a particular line of action? Too often we find ourselves, however temporarily, in an ongoing situation with which we feel decidedly uncomfortable.

So, at long last, our suggested contrasting all of this with what the apostle tells us today in the New Testament extract. “We give thanks to God always … remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

WHO have I chosen? WHAT

am I doing? HOW am I doing it? Juggling with prickly pears is supping with the devil!

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