Scripture: Mark 12:13-27
Key verse: (13) “Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said.”
Reflection: “They sent to him…;” that’s how today’s reading begins. I’ve always wondered who “they” were. Were they the chief priests? Were they the Sanhederin Were they Roman leaders? “They sent to him.” How often are our lives defined by what “they” say we must do? Do we ever take time to define who “they” are?
In our reading, “they” seem to have quite a lot of power. “They” manage to get the Pharisees and Herodians together to trap Jesus. Pharisees and Herodians did not cooperate together on anything. They represent opposite ends of the political spectrum of Jesus’ day. Pharisees were committed to maintaining the holiness of the Jewish people through strict adherence to the laws of God. They could not stand Herodians, who were people supporting Herod, the puppet king of Judea placed there by the Romans. Herod was not Jewish, nor was he Roman, but his power was given by Rome and he advocated Roman ways. It would take a lot of power to get the Pharisees and the Herodians together about anything. This would be like saying, “the Sierra Club and the NRA came together to trap him.” “They” orchestrate all that.
They pose a troubling question: is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor? If Jesus says, “yes,” then the Pharisees will accuse him of capitulation to the Romans. He will alienate himself with most Jews who opposed the tax so much it led to a revolt in 6 AD. If he says, “no,” then the Herodians will accuse him of treason. The trap is set and ready to be sprung.
As is his custom, Jesus responds by asking them a question. He does not have a Roman coin, so he asks them to produce one, and they do. The coin likely bore an image of Tiberius, with an inscription, “Son of the Divine Augustus.” For faithful Jews, this money was unclean as it bore a graven image and claimed divinity for a human being. It is ironic that the Pharisees would have it. Jesus asks, “Whose head is this?” The Greek there is “iconos,” meaning idol. They answer, “Caeser’s.” The “holy” men are holding Caesar’s idol. Jesus responds, “Repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” implying they belong to Caesar. Then he offers the closer, “and to God the things that are God’s.” Of course, everything belongs to God — even Caesar. And they are amazed. Which is to say, they get caught in their own trap.
Jesus has a way of confounding the powers of the world. “They” have no power over him. In our lives, it often feels like “they” run the show. As people of faith, we do not live for “them.” We live for God. Today, may we offer to God the things that are God’s, which is to say our very selves.
Prayer: Bless me this day, O God, with a sure sense of our divine providence, so that I might live in faith, free from the powers of the world, freed for loving service to you in Christ’s name. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].