And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them.
So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?" They answered and said, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
- Luke 20:19-26
Yesterday we read that, after Jesus was confronted by the leadership as He taught in the temple in Jerusalem, He began to tell the people this parable: "A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the vinedressers beat him and sent hi away empty-handed. Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Probably they will respect him when they see him.' But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.' So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others." And when they heard it they said, "Certainly not!" Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone'? Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."
And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the people -- for they knew He had spoken this parable against them. We see the response of the leadership to Jesus' reply about His own authority, and to the parable Jesus spoke against them (see yesterday's reading above, and the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers).
So they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?" They answered and said, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent. We know the intent of the leadership; now they are ready to destroy the One who does not act according to their authority, but rather to His own. And the means by which they attempt first to question Him is not just to trap Him in an answer which they can perhaps take to the Roman authorities, but also to trap Him into an answer unpopular with the people, who are listening here at the temple in Jerusalem during Passover week. Jesus first embarrassed them with a question in reply about John the Baptist's authority, and the leadership feared their own response before the people (see Monday's reading). Their question to Him now about taxation is designed to set a trap for Him. If He answers "yes" it will turn the people against Him. But a "no" answer could bring a charge of treason by the Romans. But once again Jesus gives an answer that defeats their trap. He shows that a believer can render the state its due while serving God (Romans 13:1-7). My study bible says that as the coin bears the image of the emperor and is properly paid to him, so each person bears the image of God and therefore belongs to Him. Conflict arises when the state demands of us that which is contrary to God.
We've got to admire the intelligence and wit of Jesus. More than that, His discussions with the leadership are not elite intellectual arguments about esoteric theology that only a scholar could understand. Jesus speaks before the people both with profound theological insight and in ways that each can understand. No wonder they marveled at His answer and kept silent. Jesus' insight and intelligence can't be bested, but these are the weapons He has and uses in confrontation and conflict with the leadership. The people can't get enough, and it all takes place in front of them. Jesus has not come into the world with a mighty army in order to conquer Israel as a messiah-warrior. He is with the lowly, one of them, and has ridden into Jerusalem in His Triumphal Entry on a donkey, not with chariots and the horses of cavalry. But what He has got are His words, His intelligence, His capacity to speak and communicate. He also listens and responds. His work is dialogue, whether it be in answering prayers with signs, in teaching and preaching, in caring for others in various ways that show His love, or responding like He does in this scene in confrontation with the leadership. Jesus has all the things that make up what it is to be not just a splendid human being, but ways which teach us what it is to be "God-like," like Him. More than anything else, He teaches us what it is to truly use our talents -- the things with which we've been endowed and blessed by God -- in ways that please God and make them grow, as the parable He gave teaches (see the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30). Christ shows us what it is to be illumined or enlightened by God's grace, and how our own talents are magnified and can serve God's purposes through the reflection of the light He brings into the world. He is the prime example of what it is to use one's intelligence in a way that is at once precise, and peaceful, and incisive, and insightful, and fully bold and truthful. He teaches what it means to "speak truth to power," as the often-used political phrase goes. We're told that He perceived their craftiness. He does not hide from Himself their motives, nor pretend their intentions are good. He is the fullness of humanity, and part of His mission into the world as Incarnate human being is simply to show us this beauty of the fullness of human beings illuminated by the life He brings, the light He asks us to shine in the world. Each of us is going to have a different set of talents, but we learn here from the Master who's come to teach us what it is to be the kind of human being He asks us to become in His image and through His spiritual truth. We note also that Jesus does not waste His efforts: this is the right time and place for such confrontation. He is always measured and exact in His applications and efforts. There will be a time when He does not bother to speak, and times when confrontation is not something He will bother with (see for example, Mark 15:2). Jesus' efforts here in the temple are as much for us, the people who watch and listen, as they are for anyone else. God takes our talents, capabilities, personalities, instincts, and makes of them what God will. A lifetime of prayerful dialogue with God, learning the gifts of the Spirit, go into making us more like God, more like the image we see in Christ, in ways we can't predict nor know. But we can see Him, watch Him. We can see the fullness of our own intelligence and capabilities used His way. We can learn from Him, as He has taught "for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). Jesus teaches us what to defend and when -- and He also teaches when it is not profitable to anyone to speak, when no one's listening who may learn from Him. Jesus' qualities are understood to exemplify the beautiful, to the ancient classical mind that would embrace Christianity. Let us learn from Him.