Friday of Pentecost 21 – Matthew 22:15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

The principal looked across the desk at the three students who glowered back at him. There was a great injustice at the school which they knew needed to be addressed. This was not an unfamiliar conversation for him. He had had it every few years. The faces changed, but the drama, angst, and passion of the students was consistent. As usual, their complaint had some merit, but it did not acknowledge the realities of a large, underfunded school. He would do what he could, the students would graduate, and a few years later another group would come in with a new complaint.

He loved these conversations. He was always happy to see their fire and zeal for righting a wrong, even if, in the larger scale of things, it was probably not that important. Some of this school’s best and most important graduates had sat in those chairs and glowered at him and his predecessors over the years. There was at least one state legislator who had sat in those chairs and raised issues with a principal.

“What would you do differently?” he asked. He really did want to know. He wanted to direct them toward something healthful and edifying. He wanted them to start thinking of solutions and not just their anger. He knew that frustrated anger could become a sort of habit. This passion needed to see a way to something good. The students were not entirely satisfied. They almost never were. But they grew that day, another little step toward being an adult. The religious leaders came Jesus in this reading filled with anger and zeal. They want to destroy Jesus, to catch Him in his words. If he said they should not pay taxes, the Romans would kill him. If he said that one should pay taxes, then the zealous among his followers would abandon him, or so they hoped. Jesus, however, looks and them and loves them. He knows their malice, but He does not react in kind. He deftly turns aside their plots. “Give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God that which belongs to God,” He says. He stumped them, but He did not reject them. Later that week, for these events happened in Holy Week, Jesus died for these men who sought His ruin. He willingly endured the destruction which they intend, because he loves them and through that death he forgives their sins and ours

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