When we speak without sincerity, when we pretend to know—or pretend to want to know—what we do not, we lead ourselves astray. We betray the truth. The question they ask Jesus sounds sincere enough: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But it is not a question for which they truly seek an answer. In truth they are trying to set a trap, hoping to ensnare him, whatever his response. Flattery paves the way. “Teacher, we know you are sincere, and teach the way of God truthfully, and do not regard people with partiality.” Indeed they have named the truth of who Jesus is, sincere and honest and impartial. It is because of these very characteristics that Jesus is able easily to discern their falsity.
What is true, what is false, within me? In what ways am I sincere, and how do I fool myself and others? Are you and I impartial in our dealings, or do we lean toward flattery and praise? Do we tend to over-correct by refusing all compliments, disowning the unique ways we express God’s creative life among us? Do we withhold blessing from ourselves and each other? Community can be a healing place for questions like these. It is our school for learning to confess ourselves in our entirety—how we are, yes, both true and false, sometimes impartial and sometimes unfair. It can be a space in the world safe enough to acknowledge that we are in process, not finished. We are still becoming more truly who we are. Those who came to Jesus hiding behind masks of wisdom and righteousness had not only the wrong question; they had the wrong kind of community.
To get close to Jesus is to risk seeing more than we thought we were ready to see. It is to come to him with our questions, often carefully crafted beforehand, and to leave not with answers, but with different questions. In this case the new question is, how do we assess the value of things that belong to the “empire” compared to the things that belong to God? Jesus says to give each what each deserves. God does not compete. Except for our oneness of heart, and for our release from the lies we tell ourselves. We can give what is true to the one who is true. We can be who we say we are.
By: Kayla McClurg